The food allergy community has cause to celebrate! President Biden signed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment and Education Research (FASTER) Act of 2021 into law, officially making sesame the 9th major food allergen. The FASTER Act will require manufacturers to label sesame by its common name in their ingredient labels and prioritize research and treatment for all food allergies.
Sesame joins dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fin fish, shellfish, soy and wheat among the most common allergens. These “Top 9” allergens account for 90% of all allergic reactions – but allergies to over 170 different foods has been recorded. Although it was not originally included in the 2004 labeling law – the Food Allergy Labeling and Consumer Protection Act – which named the “top 8” allergens, recent studies show that sesame allergies are as common as some tree nuts which were included on that list.
Why is this important?
Sesame allergies are on the rise. While all food allergies have increased globally since the 1990s, sesame allergies are growing exponentially. It is currently estimated that more than 1.5 million Americans live with this life-threatening allergy. Sesame is known for producing serious reactions and is not typically outgrown. Food allergic visits to the emergency room have tripled in the last decade. Severe allergic reactions, called anaphylaxis, can be fatal.
To date, sesame was not required to be labeled by its common name on ingredient lists. Sesame was often listed under a number of different names including foreign terms such as “benne seed,” “gomasio,” or “tahini”. It could also be hidden in “lump sum” ingredients such as “spices” or “natural flavors,” making it difficult for consumers to determine whether a food might contain sesame or not.
By requiring sesame to be labeled by a common or recognizable name, consumers with food allergies will be able to easily tell if a food is safe for him/her to eat. The FASTER Act will protect patients from dangerous allergic reactions.
What is in the FASTER Act?
The FASTER Act requires manufacturers to include sesame seeds in plain language on ingredient lists on all packaged foods. Sesame seeds and any products made from sesame seeds (such as sesame oil, ground sesame flour, etc) will be listed simply as “sesame” or “sesame seeds.” This law will go into effect January 2023.
Importantly, this law also requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to prioritize a thorough review of food allergy prevention, treatment and research within the next 18 months. The FASTER Act also puts a regulatory process in place to review and declare other foods as “major food allergens” in the future. This allows the medical community to look ahead and open the door for additional food to be included on food labels.
The FASTER Act helps the US labeling laws better reflect the needs of the population. The inclusion of sesame begins to bring the United States in line with other industrialized nations. Currently, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, Australia and others require clear labels for far more allergens in order to protect its citizens. And while sesame now joins the list of major allergens, many allergens remain unlabeled.
AllergyStrong – and the food allergy community at large – stand ready to help protect patients and ease the burden of this condition. The FASTER Act is a tremendous step in that direction!