A new ‘Big Eight’ food allergen in the U.S.?

In the U.S., eight major food allergen categories are currently acknowledged by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act: milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans. Now, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering adding another common foodborne allergen, turning the “Big Eight” into the “Big Nine.”

On October 30, the FDA opened a public comment period, requesting information about the prevalence and severity of sesame allergies within the country. Depending on what they hear, the agency will consider requiring food companies to disclose sesame as an allergen on the labels of products that contain it. Currently, food companies in the U.S. must label the presence of any of the eight regulated allergens.

“We’re beginning to see evidence that sesame allergies may be a growing concern in the U.S.,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. “A handful of studies, for example, suggest that the prevalence of sesame allergies in the U.S. is more than 0.1% — on par with allergies to soy and fish.”

Sesame is tricky as an allergen, because so often it’s included in products like spice mixes and food flavorings that end up lumped under generic terms, like “natural flavors” or “spices,” on food labels. In these cases, a food product might not be required to mention sesame specifically on its label. To that end, the FDA is also asking for information on the prevalence of foods containing sesame that aren’t required to disclose the ingredient.

“Through all of these efforts, our goal is to help Americans with food allergies better navigate the products they find in the marketplace, by arming them with reliable information that allows them to prevent dangerous allergic reactions while ensuring that we set reasonable expectations for food manufacturers to successfully meet labeling requirements,” Gottlieb said.

The comment period will remain open until December 30.

Neogen is a leader in the development of food allergen diagnostic tests, including for sesame. See our website for more information.

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