Companies are adding sesame to food in the face of labeling laws

One New federal law requiring sesame to be listed as an allergen on food labels is having unintended consequences—increasing the number of products with the ingredient.

Food industry experts say the requirements are so strict that many manufacturers, especially bakers, find the addition of sesame to products—and product labeling—and product labeling simple. and less expensive than trying to keep it away from other sesame foods or appliances.

As a result, a number of companies — including national restaurant chains like Olive Garden, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A and grocery and school-serving bread makers — are adding sesame to their products. products that previously did not have sesame. While the practice is legal, consumers and advocates say it violates the spirit of the law to make food safer for people with allergies.

“It’s exciting as a policy advocate and advocate,” said Naomi Seiler, a consultant with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America whose 9-year-old daughter, Zoe, is allergic to sesame. A mother. “Instead, companies are intentionally adding allergens to food.”

The new law, effective January 1, requires all foods produced and sold in the United States to be labeled if they contain sesame, which is now the nation’s ninth major allergen. this. Sesame can be found in conspicuous places, such as the sesame seeds on a hamburger. But it’s also an ingredient in many foods from protein bars to ice cream, added to sauces, dips and salad dressings and hidden in seasonings and flavorings.

Advocates for families dealing with allergies have been lobbying for years to add sesame to the list of major allergens. Congress in 2004 introduced labeling requirements for eight categories: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.

More than 1.6 million people in the United States have an allergy to sesame, some so severe that they need an injection of epinephrine, a drug used to treat life-threatening reactions. Ruchi Gupta, a pediatrician and director of the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research at Northwestern University, said cases of sesame allergies have been on the rise in recent years, with an increasing number of cases. Many foods contain this ingredient.

“Sesame has a lot of things that people don’t really understand,” says Gupta, who called the move to add sesame to products “disappointing.”

“In families where someone has a sesame allergy, it’s really difficult,” she said.

Below the new rule, enforced by the Food and Drug Administration, companies must now clearly label sesame as an ingredient or separately note that a product contains sesame. In the US, ingredients are listed on product packaging in order of quantity. Sesame labeling has been required for many years in other places, including Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

If ingredients do not include sesame, companies must take steps to prevent food from coming into contact with any sesame, known as cross-contamination.

Food industry experts say the new requirements are not straightforward or realistic.

“It was as if we were suddenly asking the bakers to go to the beach and go to the beach,” said Nathan Mirdamadi, a consultant with the Commercial Food Hygiene Foundation, which advises the industry on food safety. remove all sand.

Some companies include statements on the label that say a food “may contain” a certain product or that the food is “made in a facility” that also uses certain allergens. However, according to the FDA, such statements are voluntary, not mandatory, and they do not exempt the company from cross-contamination prevention requirements.

Instead, some companies have taken a different approach. Olive Garden officials said that starting this week, the chain will add “a minimal amount of sesame paste” to the company’s popular baguettes “due to the potential for cross-contamination at the bakery.”

Chick-fil-A changed its white dumplings and multigrain brioche to include sesame, while Wendy’s said the company added sesame to its bread sticks and French toast.

United States Bakery, which operates Franz Family Bakeries in California and the Northwest, informed customers in March that it would add a small amount of sesame paste to all hamburgers and hot dogs and rolls “to reduce the cost of buns.” minimize the risk of any adverse reactions to sesame products.”

While such actions do not violate the law, the FDA “does not endorse” them, the agency said in a statement.

“This will make it harder for customers with sesame allergies to find food that is safe for them to consume,” the statement said.

Several major companies have previously added other allergens to their products and updated their labels. In 2016, Kellogg’s added small amounts of peanut powder to some cookies and crackers, sparking an outcry.

That’s frustrating and scary for parents like Kristy Fitzgerald of Crookston, Minnesota. Last spring, she learned that Pan-O-Gold Baking Co., which supplies bread to schools, medical centers and grocery stores across the Midwest, was adding small amounts of sesame into her products, including those served at her daughter’s school. Meanwhile, Audrey, 6, is out of her allergy to sesame.

Bob Huebner, Pan-O-Gold’s director of food safety/quality assurance, told Fitzgerald in an email sequence that the company was forced to add sesame to its products and labels.

Huebner wrote in an email to Fitzgerald: “The unfortunate reality is that our equipment and bakeries are not set up for the allergen cleaning necessary to prevent sesame cross-contamination and are not an option. for us. Huebner responded to emails from the AP but did not respond to questions about the company’s operations.

Fitzgerald has started an online petition opposing the move to add sesame.

“At some point, someone will feed a child with an allergy to sesame,” says Fitzgerald. “That makes me think that the law needs to be changed to show that this is not an acceptable practice.”

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