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The FASTER Act: What it Means for the Rise of Sesame Allergies and Food Allergy Research

On Friday, April 23, 2021, President Biden signed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act (S. 578), requiring that sesame be labeled on packaged foods and prioritizing food allergy research. This milestone has been years in the making, largely due to the rise in sesame allergies and the growth of food allergies and intolerance worldwide.

While sesame allergies have been increasing in the United States over the past 20 years, recent research released by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) in 2019 officially denoted sesame as the ninth most common food allergy in the United States. This new act mandates that beginning on January 1, 2023, all foods containing sesame should indicate the ingredient on the label.

Why is the FASTER Act important?

The passing of the FASTER Act is critical and timely as this will not only provide safety measures through food labels for individuals who are allergic to sesame, but also prioritizes food allergy advocacy and research. In fact, the act requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to issue a report on scientific opportunities in food allergy research that examines prevention, treatment and potential cures – an exciting step in management and care for the 85 million Americans who are affected by food allergies or intolerances.

How prevalent are sesame allergies in the U.S.?

Currently, more than 1.1 million Americans are allergic to sesame and some experts consider sesame allergy to have “increased more than any other food allergy over the past 10 – 20 years” in the United States. Until now, it has been much trickier to avoid sesame for those who are sesame allergic given the lack of official labeling, compared to other prevalent food allergies such as peanuts, eggs, etc.

What are the most common foods for sesame to be found in?

Oftentimes, sesame seeds are added to breads or sprinkled on hamburger buns. They are also frequently included in baked crackers. In addition, sesame is very popular in a variety of cuisines including Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Korean. Sesame oil is also used for cooking such as marinating meats and vegetables for deep frying.

Here in the Lowcountry, sesame seeds are plentiful in our infamous “benne wafers,” believed to have been brought to Charleston during the 17th century by West African slaves. The benne wafers, or cookies, are both sweet and savory, and have always been deemed a “Charleston staple.”

Other foods that commonly contain sesame include:

  • Bread crumbs
  • Cereals (such as granola or muesli)
  • Chips (bagel chips, pita chips and tortilla chips)
  • Dipping sauces (baba ghanoush, hummus, tahini)
  • Falafel
  • Flavored rice, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews and stir fry
  • Herbs and herbal drinks
  • Margarine
  • Processed meats and sausages
  • Protein and energy bars
  • Sushi
  • Vegetarian burgers

As you can see, avoiding sesame can become quite cumbersome, as it is found in so many foods that our society enjoys on a daily basis. It can even be found in some non-food items such as cosmetics, medications, nutritional supplements and pet foods.

What are the most common symptoms for a sesame allergy?

The level of sensitivity to sesame can vary from person to person, so not all reactions are the same. As with any allergy, reactions can also be unpredictable. Symptoms of a sesame allergy reaction can range from mild, such as hives, to severe, such as anaphylaxis.

How do I know if I’m allergic to sesame?

As recommended for suspicion of any food allergy, it is suggested that you request an appointment with a board-certified allergist. Your allergist will administer a physical exam, take a detailed medical history and possibly suggest a skin test. With a skin test, your results are available within minutes.

If you are diagnosed with a food allergy, your board-certified allergist will determine the best course of action to manage your allergy and avoid ingredients that could trigger an allergic reaction.

Our hope is that with the latest improvements in legislation surrounding sesame allergies, it will become easier for those who are allergic to sesame to avoid foods that can cause dangerous allergic reactions. We are also excited for the future of food allergy medicine with the emphasis on research and treatment that the FASTER Act brings!

If you are concerned you might have an allergy to sesame or another food, contact our team today to meet with one of our board-certified allergists.