Sesame Is Now a Major Food Allergen. Why Are So Many Companies Suddenly Adding It to Foods?

Items that previously didn’t contain sesame now have it listed in the ingredients. Here’s why.

Variety of homemade traditional and black cuttlefish ink different size burger buns with sesame seeds whole and sliced over blue texture background
You can clearly see the sesame seeds on these buns, but that's not true for all foods.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Earlier this year, the FDA announced that sesame is now considered a major food allergen. Food manufacturers are required to call it out on the back of packaging in the “contains” section, along with other allergens like soy, milk and wheat. But in a twisted turn of events, rather than simply calling it out on products that originally contained sesame, companies are adding sesame flour to food items that were previously free of the allergen. 

The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (Faster) Act requires manufacturers to carefully clean equipment to ensure foods are sesame-free, otherwise companies have to call it out on the label. In turn, some companies are saying that adding sesame to items that previously didn’t have it is the safest thing they can do because they can’t sufficiently clean equipment. And federal labeling laws state that you can’t call out an allergen unless the product actually contains it. The solution? Tons of companies are adding sesame to foods so they don’t have to worry about cross contamination and can slap sesame on the allergen label.

According to The Washington Post, the FDA “does not support adding sesame as a strategy to comply with the law. Labeling is not to be used instead of current good manufacturing practices with regard to allergens,” an FDA spokesperson told the publication. This is obviously a huge issue, especially because these companies are adding sesame in the form of flour instead of seeds. So now items that previously didn’t have the allergen might contain it, but it’s invisible to the eye — which is particularly a problem for children because they were likely used to seeing and avoiding the seeds.

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Per The Washington Post, here is a list of companies that have now added sesame to previously sesame-free items: Wendy’s, Dave’s Killer Bread, Chick-fil-A, Olive Garden, Walmart, Target, Wonder, Nature’s Own, Sara Lee, Ballpark, Thomas Bagels, Franz Bakeries, Jack in the Box, Sonic, Pan-O-Gold, Culver’s, Kroger and Wegmans. So if you have a severe sesame allergy and shop or eat at any of these places, watch the fuck out — their products could now kill you.

Two major fast food restaurants are actually making moves to comply with the new regulation. Jimmy John’s removed sesame from its wheat bread to make the restaurant menu completely sesame-free, and McDonald’s has collaborated with its suppliers to offer both sesame-seeded buns and plain buns that are completely sesame-free.

Maybe for some companies, adding sesame really is the safest path forward, especially if they have smaller operations. But for these bigger manufacturers, it’s obviously corporate greed that’s driving the decision to potentially poison allergic customers instead of adhering to the new law.


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