Americans are sent to the emergency room more than 200,000 times per year for allergic reactions to food.
If you have a food allergy, you’ve probably spent a lot of time and effort checking labels’ ingredient lists to see if the food you are allergic to is included. Missing an allergen can be dangerous – Americans are sent to the emergency room more than 200,000 times per year for allergic reactions to food.
The work of avoiding allergens has gotten a bit easier over time, thanks to federal food safety and labeling rules CSPI fought to put in place. These rules are designed to ensure food manufacturers label the most common food allergens and control for cross-contact risks, so that foods aren’t unintentionally contaminated.
In January 2023, new rules went into effect implementing the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act, a bill CSPI also supported, which extends those basic labeling and safety protections to sesame, the ninth most common food allergen in the United States. CSPI was the first group to petition the FDA to require allergen labeling for sesame in 2014, making it the 9th allergen to receive these protections in the United States.
Thanks to these changes, some manufacturers are labeling foods and cleaning up production practices to prevent foods from becoming contaminated with sesame through accidental cross-contact.
But other manufacturers have responded perversely to the new law by intentionally adding sesame to products, rather than eliminating it.
At least five companies have publicly admitted to adding sesame in the wake of the FASTER Act: the brands Chick-fil-A, Dave's Killer Bread, Culver's, Olive Garden, and Pan-O-Gold. Many more products have quietly begun declaring sesame at the end of their ingredients list without any public explanation.
Adding sesame is a quick-and-dirty means to address cross-contact risks and prevent potential recalls for undeclared sesame, because these protective steps aren’t required when an allergen is already declared as an ingredient. So, companies may imagine, it’s better to add a new allergen and declare it than to actually clean up production lines to reduce it.
It’s also more dangerous: Even trace amounts of sesame added to products as the last (least common) ingredient can be sufficient to trigger an allergic reaction, and consumers do not always see the allergen declaration, particularly if it’s a new change to a product they’ve eaten for years.
That’s why this week, CSPI petitioned FDA to prohibit this harmful practice, which is a violation of food safety rules requiring companies to reduce food safety risks. This petition is part of our longstanding work to improve allergen labeling, which also includes fighting to have allergen labeling extended to alcohol.
If FDA fails to take action now, this practice could set a dangerous example. If companies learn they can cut corners by adding sesame, there is nothing to stop them from adding peanuts, milk, or other major allergens to avoid having to clean the lines for allergens in between products.
The allergen labeling and food safety rules exist to protect consumers, not get companies to add allergens to products. We’re here to make sure FDA puts a stop to this absurd practice, before it spreads further.