If you have experience with food allergies, you know how difficult it can be to read food labels and find safe food options. The top food allergens, which include milk, egg, wheat, soybean, peanut, tree nuts, fish and crustacean shellfish, are required to be labeled on packaged foods according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
Recently, a ninth major food allergen has been added to labels: sesame. Reactions to sesame can be severe, yet sesame has not always been clearly labeled on food labels. To solve this problem, in April of 2021 the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act, also called the FASTER Act, was signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The FASTER Act adds sesame to the list of the top food allergens. The law requires that the presence of sesame be disclosed in plain language on the food labels of packaged food products and dietary supplements sold in the United States. These foods are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the FDA will enforce the FASTER Act. As of Jan. 1, 2023, food manufacturers will be required to have the word “sesame” within the ingredients list or in the “contains” statement if sesame is an ingredient in the product. Prior to the FASTER Act, sesame could appear in undeclared ingredients such as flavors and spice blends making it difficult to identify and avoid.
It is estimated that more than 1.5 million Americans are allergic to sesame. This change marks the first time since 2004 that the list of top food allergens was expanded. The FASTER Act will make sesame easily identifiable for shoppers. It will protect and make a substantial difference for those living with and caring for those with a sesame allergy.
The law only applies to the ingredients in the food, and the presence of sesame due to cross-contact does not need to be disclosed. The law does not apply to meat, poultry and egg products, which are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Additionally, the law does not apply to non-food items like medications, pet food, perfumes and a variety of cosmetic products, such as hair products, soaps and lotions. Sesame does not need to be clearly identified on these products. If sesame is present in these products, the scientific name for sesame, Sesamum indicum, may be included on the labels instead.
The FASTER Act only applies to products that are manufactured after Jan. 1, 2023. This means that a product that was placed on the store shelf prior to Jan. 1, 2023 does not need to be removed from the shelf or relabeled. During this transition period, consumers need to be aware that some products on the store shelf may not be labeled for sesame. It is recommended that the food manufacturer be contacted if the consumer is unsure whether a food product contains or potentially contains sesame.