To help protect individuals with sesame allergies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared the seed a “major food allergen” on Jan. 1. But that may have led to some unintended consequences.
The declaration means food companies and restaurants must implement measures to prevent sesame cross contamination and clearly label products containing the allergen. However, some food allergy experts worry manufacturers will simply add sesame to their recipes and products, allowing them to avoid dealing with cross-contamination regulations.
“We’ve heard rumors about it but we haven’t talked to any manufacturers directly,” said Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). “We’ve just heard about reports.”
Olive Garden, Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s confirmed to AARP that some of their breads now contain sesame and that they have updated their allergen guides accordingly. Chick-fil-A explained that while the company did not want to change its recipe, their suppliers were unable to guarantee that the production lines for their white and multigrain brioche buns could be completely free of sesame, and there are no bread suppliers able to provide the necessary volume of sesame-free bread. However, the restaurant chain does offer sesame-free bread options.
The difference between ‘contains’ and ‘may contain’
If a food label has a “contains” statement, it lists the names of all major allergens used as ingredients. Some manufacturers voluntarily include an advisory statement on labels, such as “may contain” or “produced in a facility,” when there is a possibility that a food allergen could be present. This often occurs when the same equipment is used to produce different products, and trace amounts of an allergen from one product may remain and be present in another.
The FDA does not have data on how much sesame is being added to ingredient lists by manufacturers, but a spokesperson stated that “while a practice of adding sesame and then declaring it on the label is not violative, it would make it more difficult for sesame allergic consumers to find foods that are safe for them to consume, a result that the FDA does not support.”
“I think what food manufacturers want to avoid is having to have a recall for improper labeling. And some are probably worried about their inability to clean their machines in an adequate way to avoid cross contamination during the manufacturing process,” Mendez said.