- A bipartisan group of legislators, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), condemned manufacturers that have recently started adding sesame ingredients to baked goods following a federal law naming sesame as a major allergen.
- Along with Wyden, Sens. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); and Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) sent a letter to American Bakers Association President and CEO Eric Dell. The letter “strongly condemns” the practice of adding sesame instead of working to avoid sesame contamination in their manufacturing facilities and asks for a response by May 16.
- Since late last year, allergy and consumer advocates have been reporting that bakery companies were adding small amounts of sesame to avoid new requirements that took effect on Jan. 1. This allows businesses to list sesame as a product ingredient rather than having to undertake the difficult task of cleaning their manufacturing facilities to avoid cross-contamination.
In recent years, the prevalence and severity of sesame allergies in the United States set policymakers on the course to make the seed a major allergen. This means its presence in products and even manufacturing facilities needs to be explicitly disclosed on product labels.
Sesame, a common ingredient in some baked goods, is unlike most of the other top allergens — milk, eggs, soy, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. While it’s easy to control where milk or nuts are, and an entire industry has grown around gluten-free products, sesame is small and scatters easily.
The law requires that if a product is sesame-free, the manufacturing facilities in which it is made must be carefully cleaned to avoid cross-contamination. Because of the challenges involved with taking that step, some manufacturers are now adding a small amount of sesame — either as seeds or a ground flour — to all products so that sesame is accurately disclosed as an ingredient on their labels.
“Given current production operations in hundreds of bakeries coupled with the existing FDA regulatory scheme (which essentially requires recalls for any products with traces of sesame, even if they have the ‘may contain sesame’ statement), including sesame and labeling it as an allergen is the most realistic and safest way to protect allergic consumers,” Rasma Zvaners, ABA’s vice president of regulatory and technical services, wrote in a blog post on the trade group’s website last week.
Advocacy groups and the legislators’ letter say this practice is not following the spirit of the law, which was intended to prevent putting consumers at risk. The legislators’ letter also notes that the ABA publicly agreed compliance would not be a problem after Biden signed the law in 2021.
Consumers who are used to dealing with sesame allergies know the brands and products to buy to avoid problems. When some manufacturers started adding sesame to their ingredient list in response to the law, some of these consumers were unaware and unintentionally purchased products that provoked allergic reactions.
“We strongly condemn these practices and urge your members to take the steps necessary to implement safety control measures,” the letter from Wyden and other members of Congress says. “No company should be allowed to avoid the costs associated with safe baking practices and risk public health and safety for those with life-threatening food allergies.”
All bakers have not taken this approach to the law, the letter points out. There are 14 manufacturers that have confirmed their facilities are sesame free.
The ABA did not respond to Food Dive’s request for comment by press time.