Earlier this year, a new law known as the FASTER Act took effect, adding sesame as a major food allergen and requiring the ingredient to be labeled as an allergen on packaged foods, including dietary supplements.
In an effort to adhere to the new law, some manufacturers are actually adding sesame to all of their food products and labels rather than properly cleaning their equipment between product runs to avoid allergen cross contamination. This action is taken in an attempt to avoid the costs associated with the processes and systems controls necessary to ensure safe baking practices. Certain products can be extremely difficult to completely eliminate in the processing environment, leading manufacturers to this alternative. To many, this action goes against the spirit of the law.
In response, a group of legislators, spearheaded by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. representatives Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), have urged bakers to stop unnecessarily adding sesame to baked goods and to protect consumers with sesame allergies.
In a letter to the American Bakers Association (ABA), the legislators condemned the actions, claiming adding sesame to baked goods that have not previously contained the ingredient, often without notice, undermines the trust that people with food allergies place in the food industry.
The ABA noted that, given current production operations in hundreds of bakeries coupled with the existing FDA regulatory scheme, including sesame and labeling it as an allergen, is the most realistic and safest way to protect allergic consumers. “We have also encouraged the FDA to use its existing authority under the Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act to work toward setting allergen thresholds, which would remove the need to add sesame where only traces below such thresholds might remain after applying rigorous Current Good Manufacturing Processes,” the organization noted in a statement. “Despite rigorous cleaning protocols, sesame is a uniquely challenging allergen to remove from the baking environment, and even the best practices cannot always remove traces of sesame.”
Sesame allergies impact more than 1.5 million Americans, and reactions can be serious and life threatening.