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Sesame May Be Named Country's Ninth Major Allergen

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About 1.5 million Americans are highly allergic to sesame seeds and sesame-based products. (TAndrews/Morguefile)
About 1.5 million Americans are highly allergic to sesame seeds and sesame-based products. (TAndrews/Morguefile)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
November 24, 2020

BOSTON -- Some 1.5 million Americans are highly allergic to sesame, yet it isn't required to be listed on food labels. That may be about to change. The U.S. House has passed the FASTER Act, which would name sesame as one of only nine allergens that must be included on ingredient lists.

Lisa Gable, CEO of the nonprofit Food Allergy Research and Education or "FARE," said people may not realize sesame is found in many bread products and spice mixes, and is a main component of tahini and hummus.

"You know, as Middle Eastern and other types of food have become very popular in the United States, sesame has become a primary ingredient," Gable said. "It's one reason why you're seeing even more people suffer from anaphylaxis, because they've actually not been introduced to it through their lives."

In some people, sesame can cause blood pressure to plummet and their throat to close up - reactions that can be dangerous and even fatal without an immediate shot of epinephrine.

The FASTER Act generated no significant opposition and has dozens of co-sponsors, including Massachusetts Reps. William Keating, James McGovern and Lori Trahan. Next, it goes to a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Gable encourages people with allergies to use an app like Smart Label, which allows users to scan any product's QR code with the camera on their phone.

"And then you just swipe the product, and there is a tab on there that tells you every allergen that's in the product - at least, those that are required to be labeled," she said.

She said FARE has been working with the Food and Drug Administration and manufacturers on this for the past few years. Deadlines are coming up for several other labeling mandates, so manufacturers would be able to make all the changes at once.

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