What Progress Is Being Made to Improve Sesame Labeling?

 

Sesame labeling has been a common topic in the news and our community recently. We wanted to give you an update on progress we’ve made advocating for better sesame labeling.

This summer, we asked you to send us examples of your allergic reactions to unlabeled or undeclared sesame. We gave your stories to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The labeling team we met with at the FDA was impressed with your stories. They encouraged us to send these stories to their adverse events reporting system. Your stories became official data to help them work toward better sesame labeling.

The FDA’s system for reporting food allergy reactions is hard to understand. So we worked with the FDA to prepare our own survey for adverse reactions to sesame. We asked you again for your sesame reaction stories.

You may have also seen a survey from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI is an advocacy group we are working with on sesame labeling. You do not need to fill out more than one survey. The responses from both surveys will be sent to the FDA. They will amplify our requests for proper labeling of sesame. Combined, more than 500 people have taken both surveys. We hope to gain more before the end of the year.

Why the end of the year? Since sending out the survey, FDA officials took a major step by issuing an official request for information (RFI) on “Sesame as an Allergen in Foods.” The purpose of this request is to “inform possible regulatory action on sesame to protect and promote the public health.”

Based on information they receive, the FDA may take more steps to include sesame as the ninth major allergen. They would then require the same labeling standards as the other major allergens. This is our goal!

Please send your personal comments to the RFI by Dec. 31, 2018, even if you have already taken our survey or reported an adverse event to the FDA. This is a separate effort from our survey and the adverse event reporting system.

If you have not had a serious reaction to sesame, do you still struggle to manage your sesame allergy due to a lack of clear labeling? If so, also send your comments to the RFI. Include the information below based on your own experience. Also add any other information you think the FDA should hear about your experience with sesame labeling.

  1. Give examples of products or product categories that contain sesame as a spice, flavor, color or additive and that do not list “sesame” on the product labeling.
  2. Give examples of products or product categories other than “spices” that contain sesame in one of the listed ingredients, but the common or usual name of that ingredient does not list “sesame” specifically on the product labeling. Please provide a copy of the labeling, if possible.
  3. Give examples of food products or product categories where you have found sesame because of cross-contact.
  4. How much time do you think you spend contacting manufacturers for information about sesame in their products?

Have you or your child had a reaction to sesame?

You can answer our adverse event survey and submit a comment to FDA’s new request for information.

Haven’t had a reaction, but want to comment on the burden of handling sesame allergy without good labeling?

You can send a comment to the FDA’s new request for information.

While the FDA announcement is very promising, it has been a long road to get to this point. Outlined below is the long timeline of actions to raise awareness on the issue of sesame labeling. Thank you for all your efforts!

  • 2004 – The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) passes on the top 8 major food allergens.
  • 2006 – FALCPA goes into effect for all food produced on or after Jan. 1, 2006.
  • 2008 – Sesame starts to gain attention as a top allergen in the U.S. and in the KFA Community.
  • 2010 – Dr. Robert Wood estimates sesame may be the fourth or fifth most common allergen.
  • 2014 – CSPI submits a Citizen Petition to the FDA asking them to require sesame products be regulated as a major allergen.
  • 2015 – Food Labeling Modernization Act (FLMA) is introduced to the 114th Congress. It includes a provision to add sesame to the list of major food allergens.
  • 2017 – AAFA/KFA and CSPI co-write a letter to FDA in support of the 2014 Citizen Petition asking for sesame labeling. We ask our community to do the same.
  • 2018 – The FLMA is reintroduced to the 115th Congress.
  • 2018, June – AAFA/KFA ask our community to send in experiences with sesame. AAFA seeks regulatory solution directly with FDA.
  • 2018, August – AAFA meets with the FDA and shares printed copies of dozens of stories from our community. The FDA says it needs more data.
  • 2018 – AAFA, FARE, CSPI, APFED, FAACT and others form a coalition to advance sesame labeling.
  • 2018, October – AAFA develops a survey for people to send the data to the FDA. The CSPI launches a different but similar survey.
  • 2018, November – AAFA meets with representatives of Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus to garner support for the inclusion of sesame on food labeling.
  • 2018, November – Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus sends a letter prepared by AAFA to FDA Commissioner Gottlieb urging the addition of sesame to the list of major food allergens.

The FDA noticed these efforts. They raised the issue of sesame labeling. The FDA Commissioner even said so himself:

“In addition to our growing concerns about sesame allergies, this request for information is designed, in part, to help inform our response to a citizen’s petition to the FDA from medical professionals and consumer advocacy groups who asked us to require that sesame-based ingredients be listed specifically by name on the ingredient lists of all food labels. We take the concerns of people with sesame allergies seriously.” – FDA Commissioner Gottlieb

Thank you for helping us work toward better sesame labeling!

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On Nov. 28, 2018, we updated this post to include two new milestones in the timeline:

  • 2018, November – AAFA meets with representatives of Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus to garner support for the inclusion of sesame on food labeling.
  • 2018, November – Congressional Asthma and Allergy Caucus sends a letter prepared by AAFA to FDA Commissioner Gottlieb urging the addition of sesame to the list of major food allergens.
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