Food Label Requirements for Sesame Allergy

black and white sesame seeds

Sesame, a widely used household ingredient, can be used in a number of versatile ways. For example, it can be used and added to types of bread, including bagels or hamburger buns, as well as a garnish on certain dishes. However, as of January 1, 2023, a significant change has been implemented in the list of major allergens recognized to help consumer safety and awareness. This recognition places sesame as the ninth major allergen, alongside commonly known allergens such as:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Crustacean shellfish 
  • Sesame 

Food manufacturers are required to accurately list sesame and other allergens’ presence on food labels which provides crucial information to individuals with such allergies. In this article, we will delve into the implications of this new requirement, discuss the importance of allergen labeling, and provide an overview of the FDA’s list of major allergens, with sesame now playing a prominent role in food safety and allergen management.

Why Sesame is Now a Major Food Allergen

Prior to being classified as a major food allergen, sesame was always required to be listed in the ingredient statement if it was added to a food product. Sesame allergen has been classified as a major allergen due to the severity of the allergic reaction caused once consumed or being exposed to. The rise in reported sesame allergic reactions over the years has been made aware of and thus being added to the list of major food allergens. The FDA now expects the label to be specifically listed as sesame if it is part of another ingredient like “spice mix” or “natural flavor” in order to prevent any exposure to the ingredient and possible allergic reactions. Consumers should be aware of the risk and should read labels carefully or ask if unsure, especially in food products with hidden ingredients. This will prevent possible exposure and life threatening allergic reactions. 

Sesame Allergy Has Become More Common

Sesame allergen is a growing concern in the US as well as Europe and other parts of the world.  According to studies, JAMA Network Open published an article in 2019 stating that, “Sesame is the ninth most common allergen in the United States impacting about 1.5 million adults and children, or about 1 in 200 people. 

There are many factors contributing to the sesame food allergen, one being the growing consumption of sesame used in various dishes around the world, which results in more people consuming sesame-containing products. Consumers do not realize the seriousness of this food allergen since it does not have the same public awareness as tree nuts and peanuts, although it is just as severe and dangerous. Consumers also do not realize how prevalent sesame is in our everyday foods being consumed and will, for the most part, never really check to see if it is. 

It is crucial to label sesame specifically as it is seen as a hidden ingredient and very difficult to avoid. Federal laws require that food labels should identify the source of major food allergens such as sesame using its most common name. Food product ingredients change all the time, so it is of utmost importance for consumers to read and check food product labels before purchasing or consuming those products. 

Sesame Is Hidden In Other Foods

Sesame can be seen as a ‘hidden’ ingredient in various foods and poses a big challenge to consumers who have a sesame allergen. Sesame is a common ingredient used in the food industry for its texture, flavor and nutritional benefits. Sesame can be found in certain foods such as bread, baked goods, sauces, dressing, spice blends or desserts. This makes it very difficult to avoid, and it can often be hard to tell if sesame is actually found in those products or dishes. 

Due to labeling regulations and various ingredient names, sesame may be listed under generic terms such as ‘natural flavors’ or ‘spices,’ making it, again, very challenging for consumers to identify sesame as an ingredient. 

The hidden nature of sesame in certain foods and the lack of clarity or information pertaining to ingredients can result in accidental ingestion, leading to mild or severe reactions in those with a sesame allergy. To avoid these risks and ensure the safety of consumers with a sesame allergy, advocacy for more specific and comprehensive labeling is essential. Increased awareness and proper labeling will ensure that consumers make informed decisions when purchasing certain products that could potentially have sesame as an ingredient. 

Reactions to Sesame Can Be Serious

With the rise in sesame allergens across the globe, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a sesame allergen. Furthermore, it is important to have knowledge about these indications of a sesame allergen since it can be severe and life-threatening. 

When an individual consumes something containing sesame, the body releases chemicals such as histamine, leading to an allergic reaction. A more serious reaction is known as anaphylaxis. This occurs when the individual has difficulty breathing or affects the rhythm of the heart or blood pressure. 

Allergic reactions can range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of the situation. An individual may experience severe allergic reactions even if their previous exposure to the allergen was mild. 

Signs of a sesame allergic reaction can develop after consuming a food that contains sesame. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include the following:

  • Skin reactions: Hives, redness, itching and swelling (particularly around the face).
  • Digestive symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
  • Respiratory symptoms: Runny nose, sneezing, wheezing and coughing. Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing can also occur.
  • Oral symptoms: itching around the facial area, mainly mouth, lips and tongue. 
  • Cardiovascular symptoms:  Irregular or rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure and dizziness. 
  • Systemic reaction: Anaphylaxis is a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction that occurs within minutes of consumption or exposure. Symptoms can include difficulty breathing, dizziness, and swelling of the face and throat. 

How to avoid sesame – be aware of allergies: 

  • Read labels carefully before purchasing or eating  products, triple check if needed.
  • Ask the manufacturers directly if you are unsure about listed ingredients / labeling
  • Be cautious of cross contamination. Sesame can be found in other foods due to cross contamination during processing or preparation. 
  • Cooking and preparing meals at home allows you to have control over the ingredients used
  • Always keep you Ephenrine Injector with you, otherwise it is recommended that you do not eat
  • Ask for ingredients of products when eating out to ensure there is no contact or consumption of sesame
  • If you do have a sesame allergy, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional to help manage your condition.

The symptoms of a sesame allergy are similar to those of a peanut allergy and should be attended to immediately if there has been any sort of exposure to sesame. It is also important to keep an epinephrine injection (EpiPen) with you at all times in the event of an allergic reaction. By doing so, one might be able to prevent any other severe allergic reactions or potential life threatening situations. 

How to Label Sesame On Your Products

As of January 1, 2023, the “Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021” has been put in place. The law now requires food manufacturers to include sesame on food labels and dietary supplements. The manufacturers are also now required to label or list sesame in clear and understandable language to ensure that the consumers are aware of the ingredient listed in the food product. 

The food source of a major allergen must be indicated in one of the following ways:

  • Parentheses: The ingredient is followed by the food source in parentheses 

For example: “flour (wheat), natural flavor (sesame), and “spices (sesame)”.

Graphic showing a blue food packet pointing to a block listing ingredients in the package itself

 Ingredient list

Source: (

Alternatively: The “Contains” statement, which indicates the major food allergens, is placed immediately after or next to the list of ingredients.

Example below: “Contains Sesame and Wheat.”Graphic showing a blue food packet pointing to a block listing ingredients in the package itself

“Contains” Statement 

Source: (

Final Word 

Individuals with a sesame allergen are faced with many challenges when it comes to purchasing or consuming products that could potentially have sesame as an ingredient,  especially due to the hidden nature of sesame in some food products. 

To ensure the safety and well-being of consumers, it is of utmost importance to correctly implement food label requirements, specifically listing sesame as an allergen. Food manufacturers need to label sesame in food products accurately, which provides crucial information to consumers in order to make informed decisions to avoid potential exposure to allergens, specifically sesame in this case. Consumers also need to be aware of what food products contain sesame, and read nutritional labels thoroughly before consuimg a product, in case it contains sesame in it. 

Increased awareness and adherence to food label requirements are essential in maintaining and managing the sesame allergen and ensuring the safety of consumers purchasing or consuming sesame-containing foods, especially in today’s world and going forward.