US allergy law: businesses add sesame instead of focus on proper cleaning

In an effort to comply with the recently enacted sesame allergy law, certain American businesses have opted to include sesame in their products instead of conducting the careful cleaning required for foods without sesame.    

As of January 1, 2023, sesame is required to be labeled as an allergen on packaged foods, including dietary supplements. Among other requirements, it calls for thorough cleaning to avoid cross-contamination between sesame-containing and sesame-free food items.    

Similar laws have provided protection for millions of Americans with allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish for nearly 20 years. Like these allergens, sesame can cause allergic reactions ranging from mild to life-threatening.    

Why would food manufacturers introduce an allergen? Some industry professionals argue that they cannot adequately clean their equipment to ensure sesame-free products. Additionally, federal labeling regulations prevent them from stating that their products contain sesame unless they actually do, hence the inclusion of sesame and subsequent labeling. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which oversees most food labeling, does not endorse this approach for complying with the law.    

Food safety advocates express greater concern. Sarah Sorscher, director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an independent consumer advocacy organization based in Washington D.C., said that adding sesame "has the potential to completely undermine the food allergy protections of the last 20 years—not just for sesame, but for all allergens." She is also concerned that other manufacturers may attempt the same with different allergens.    

However, even if some companies claim to have added sesame flour to certain foods to protect allergic consumers (noting their inability to guarantee 100% sesame-free production lines even after intensified cleaning), other major companies have found ways to follow the intent of the new law, such as making their menus sesame-free or not adding sesame to products that did not previously contain it.    

Meanwhile, people with sesame allergy are frustrated because the new law, instead of helping them, has limited their food choices.