Sesame allergen and food labeling: updated guidelines in the US

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA's FSIS) has recently updated its comprehensive guidelines for inspection program personnel (IPP) to address the challenges associated with sesame allergens in food labeling.    

Sesame allergies have been on the rise in the United States, affecting approximately 0.23% of both children and adults. These allergies are typically triggered by allergen classes such as oleosin, vicillins, and seed storage proteins found in sesame. All forms of sesame, including flour and oil, are considered highly allergenic.  
Sesame officially became the ninth major food allergen in the US through a 2021 federal law, known as the FASTER Act, joining the existing eight major allergens (milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans) established by a law passed in 2004. As of January 1, 2023, manufacturers were required to list sesame as an allergen on packaged goods, including nutritional supplements.    

With the inclusion of sesame as a major food allergen, FSIS has reissued the directive "Ongoing Verification of Product Formulation and Labeling Targeting the Nine Most Common (Big 9) Food Allergens—Revision 3", also specifying the milk allergen as “cow’s milk,” and introducing an additional example for soy products.    

The updated guidelines from FSIS aim to enhance allergen verification measures, equipping inspection personnel with the necessary tools to effectively address the specific challenges associated with sesame allergens. The guidelines also empower FSIS to request voluntary recalls from establishments if mislabeling or inaccuracies regarding the Big 9 allergens or other ingredients are identified.  
Previous analyses conducted by FSIS have revealed that misbranding often occurs due to factors such as changes in ingredient suppliers, product mislabeling or packaging errors, or modifications to product or ingredient formulations.    

By implementing these comprehensive guidelines, USDA's FSIS seeks to establish robust protocols that address sesame allergen concerns, safeguard public health, and maintain the integrity of food labeling practices within the meat, poultry, and egg product sectors.