FDA urged to prohibit food companies from intentionally adding an allergen, sesame, to evade cross-contamination rules

Sesame sauce and seeds

Mohamad Mahdi Abbasi / Unsplash.com

Food companies such as Chick-fil-A, Culver’s, Dave’s Killer Bread, Olive Garden, and Pan-O-Gold are adding a known allergen—sesame—to their products rather than complying with a new law requiring sesame to be labeled as an allergen—a practice that the Center for Science in the Public Interest says violates federal food safety rules.  

As of January 1, food companies must label foods that contain sesame with an allergen declaration, thanks to the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act. As a result, many manufacturers are labeling foods and cleaning up production practices to prevent foods from becoming contaminated with sesame through accidental cross-contact. 

But some manufacturers have responded to the new law by intentionally adding sesame to ingredients lists. While some companies have publicly announced they are making the changes as a response to the new law, others have simply added sesame quietly and without any public explanation.  

As a result, consumers have taken to social media expressing frustration at not being able to find products that meet their needs. One mom, Jennifer Grant, posted on Facebook that her daughter in college no longer had access to previously safe foods. 

In a regulatory petition filed with the Food and Drug Administration, CSPI is asking the agency to crack down on manufacturers who are intentionally adding sesame to foods instead of avoiding cross-contamination. “This perverse practice sets a dangerous example,” said CSPI Director of Regulatory Affairs Sarah Sorscher. “If companies can do this with sesame, there is nothing to stop them from adding other peanuts, milk, or other major allergens instead of cleaning the lines for allergens in between products.” 

CSPI has been a leading advocate for food allergy safety and labeling for over 50 years, and in 2014 was the first group to petition the FDA to require allergen labeling for sesame. It also lobbied in support of laws requiring food allergens to be declared on food packages and is currently pushing for allergen labeling on alcohol

Even trace amounts of sesame added to products can be sufficient to trigger an allergic reaction. And as important as it is to declare all major allergens, consumers do not always notice the new allergen declaration, particularly if it’s a change to a product they’ve eaten for years. 

CSPI is urging FDA to declare the practice illegal under rules requiring food manufacturers to reduce risks.  

“The allergen labeling and food safety rules give companies a responsibility to identify and reduce risks,” says Sorscher. “Their approach is completely backwards.” 

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