New food labeling law designed to protect those with sesame seed allergies faces pushback
A tough new food labeling law aimed at protecting people with sesame seed allergies seems to have backfired as some companies are increasing the number of products with sesame.
From bagels to burger buns and baked goods, sesame seeds add a tasty flavor. But for an estimated 1.5 million people with sesame allergies, the tiny seeds pose a big health threat.
"His allergy is life-threatening, and it can kill him within five minutes," says Holbrook mother Samantha Lindenbaum about her toddler Aven's sesame allergy.
He nearly died after eating a bite of hummus when he was 6 months old. That's why Samantha was relieved when a new federal law went into effect on Jan. 1 requiring that sesame be listed as an allergen on food labels.
"The new law helps because I know where sesame is now," she adds.
Up until now, sesame could appear in undeclared ingredients such as flavors and spice blends, leaving many people with a sesame allergy in the dark.
"It could be listed as a spice. You wouldn't know that a spice is sesame seeds. So with this clear labeling you'll know exactly what you're eating," says Northwell Health Chief Clinical Dietician Nina Eng.
But families across America are now discovering the new federal law known as the FASTER Act is having an unintended effect: Increasing the number of products with sesame.
Food industry experts said the requirements of the new law are so stringent that many manufacturers find it simpler and less expensive to add sesame to a product and to label it than to try to keep it away from other foods or equipment with sesame.
As a result, several companies, including Olive Garden, Wendy's and Chick-fil-A as well as breadmakers that stock supermarket shelves are adding sesame to products that didn't have it before.
"It's absolutely despicable," Lindenbaum says.
While the practice is legal, consumers like Lindenbaum say it violates the spirit of the law aimed at making foods safer for people with allergies. She's now one of many food allergy advocates calling and emailing those companies to stop the practice.
"It's definitely backwards, and it's sad," Lindenbaum adds.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it "does not support" adding sesame to foods that didn't contain it before.