Is voluntary sesame labelling enough?

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code requires sesame to be labelled when it is present in foods as an ingredient, a component of food additives, or a component of processing aids. However, in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) encourages food manufacturers to voluntarily declare sesame in the ingredient list on food labels if it is added as flavouring or spice and has just issued a draft guidance for how this should be done.

While US regulations require sesame to appear on the label if the whole seed is used, where it’s used as a flavour or in a spice blend, listing it’s presence on the label is not mandatory under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).

It is the FDA’s role to continue to assess allergens of public health importance. Two years ago, it issued a notice inviting data and information on the occurrence and severity of sesame allergies in the US and the prevalence of sesame-containing foods in the US that are not required to disclose sesame as an ingredient. Information provided in response estimates the frequency of sesame allergies in the US is more than 0.1%, which is similar to allergies to soy and fish.

In some reports stakeholders suggest the FDA’s proposal for voluntary labelling of sesame does not go far enough.  FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) have publicly expressed their disappointment: “On behalf of the 32 million Americans who suffer from life-threatening food allergies, and the 1.5 million Americans allergic to sesame, FARE is disappointed in the FDA’s proposed guidance to industry regarding the ‘Voluntary Disclosure of Sesame as an Allergen’ issued on November 10. While the guidance is a step in the right direction, sesame needs to be recognized as the ninth top allergen and it must be labeled.”

Comments on the FDA’s draft guidance should be submitted within 60 days of publication of the notice announcing the availability of the draft guidance. This will ensure comments are considered by the FDA during their work on the final version of the guidance. Details of how to submit a comment are available on the FDA website.