It just got a little easier to avoid foods that might trigger a sesame allergy.
President Joe Biden recently signed federal legislation that requires sesame to be labeled on all packaged foods beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.
Sesame is the ninth food allergen — and the first since 2004 — that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has mandated must appear on labeling in plain language, according to the organization Food Allergy Research & Education.
The official list of food allergens now includes:
- Tree nuts
The new federal rule comes at a time when allergies to sesame are on the rise.
More than 1 million Americans have such an allergy, says Melanie Carver, chief mission officer of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA).
“The number of people in the United States with sesame allergy has risen in recent years because of an increase in products containing sesame or sesame oil,” she says.
The new federal law will help alert consumers to the presence of sesame, which is often a hidden ingredient in foods, making it tough to spot. If you have such an allergy, the consequences can be serious.
“Allergic reactions to sesame can cause anaphylaxis,” Carver says, referring to a type of severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening.
The hidden role of sesame
Sesame sometimes lurks in places you would not expect to find it. Sesame’s presence can be hidden inside phrases such as “spices” and “natural flavors,” Carver says.
“It is also in sesame oil, an ingredient found in health and beauty products such as skin cream and lip gloss,” she adds.
Foods that often contain sesame include:
- Some types of rice
- Asian foods that use sesame oil
- Snack bars
The new law should make it easier for people living with food allergies to determine what is safe to eat, Carver says. Although the law does not kick in until 2023, some manufacturers already are making updates to their packaging, she says.
So, now is the perfect time to start looking more carefully at food labels.
“It’s important to know how to read labels for allergen information,” Carver says. “Always read the ingredient label every time you buy or use a food.”
You can also contact food manufacturers or check their websites if you need help determining risk, she says.
Carver says the best policy when shopping for sesame-free food is to follow an AAFA motto: “If you can’t determine if something is safe for you to eat, then don’t eat it,” she says.
What to do if you suspect a sesame allergy
If you think you might have an allergy to sesame, consult with a physician. If a sesame allergy is confirmed, you will need to take precautions.
“Talk with your allergist about your food allergy,” Carver says. “Discuss which foods you can or cannot eat.”
You also may need to keep the medicine epinephrine with you at all times.
“Epinephrine is the only medicine that will stop anaphylaxis,” Carver says. “Antihistamines like Benadryl do not stop anaphylaxis.”
Learn how to use the drug in case you need it in an emergency. Most of the epinephrine auto-injector options have training devices available, Carver says.
It’s also important to learn the signs of and symptoms of a severe allergic food reaction. These include:
- Skin rashes, itching and/or hives
- Swelling of the lips, tongue or throat
- Shortness of breath, trouble breathing and wheezing
- Dizziness and/or fainting
- Stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhea
- Uterine cramps
- Feeling like something awful is about to happen
“It’s useful for adults and kids to carry a written step-by-step plan for what to do in an emergency,” Carver says, adding that caregivers of children and adults in need should have copies of this plan.