The FASTER Act will add sesame to the list of major food allergens effective Jan. 1, 2023.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new guidance Monday on food allergen labeling requirements, ahead of designating sesame as a "major food allergen" which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.
The FDA issued a new and revised "questions and answers" document related to labeling food allergens, including requirements in the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021 and the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection (FALCPA) Act of 2004.
The FALCPA also amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) by defining the term "major food allergen" and requiring that foods or ingredients that contain a major food allergen be specifically labeled with the name of the allergen source.
Oil-coated tuna steak is pressed into two kinds of sesame seeds before cooking. (Photo by Marice Cohn Band/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
This law previously identified eight foods as major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.
Sesame becomes 9th major food allergen
In April, President Joe Biden signed into law a bill that would make sesame the ninth U.S. major food allergen and requires food makers to clearly label packaging by January 2023.
More than 1.5 million people are allergic to sesame, the edible seeds of the sesame plant that are a common ingredient in dishes around the world, according to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). Reports suggest the allergy to sesame has increased "significantly" worldwide over the past two decades, the nonprofit said.
The legislation passed in the Senate in March and the House in April, receiving bipartisan support.
Allergy expenses are costly, study finds
One study estimated that U.S. households with child food allergies spend $24.8 billion annually — breaking down to roughly $4,184 per year per child — based on expenses for medical bills and treatments, buying special foods and leaving employment to care for a child with a food allergy.
Sesame is often used when a label reads "natural flavors" or "natural spices," adding a layer of difficulty when shoppers read product labels at the grocery store, according to FARE.
"The President’s signing today of the FASTER Act is a major victory for the entire food allergy community across the nation," FARE CEO Lisa Gable said in a statement. "I cannot thank President Biden enough, along with the thousands of food allergy champions who made today a reality, most notably Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA-06), and Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC-10) who garnered overwhelming support for this bill in Congress."
Childhood food allergies have slowly increased in the U.S. over the past several decades. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that the prevalence of food allergy in children increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011.
Between 1997 and 2008, the prevalence of peanut or tree nut allergy appeared to have more than tripled in U.S. children, according to FARE.
Today, roughly 32 million Americans have life-threatening food allergies, including 5.6 million children under age 18. That number breaks down to one in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom, FARE states.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. Kelly Hayes contributed.