Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced last year that the Food and Drug Administration was considering adding sesame to its list of eight major food allergens — milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and — that must be disclosed on food packaging.
Gottlieb filed a “request for information,” inviting “data and other information on the prevalence and severity of sesame allergies in the United States and the prevalence of sesame-containing foods sold in the United States that are not required to disclose sesame as an ingredient.”
Enter a team of researchers at the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research at Northwestern University, at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago and at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
This team had just completed a food allergy survey of nearly 80,000 people in more than 50,000 households. Using the survey responses, the researchers estimated 0.49% of the U.S. population — more than 1.5 million children and adults — had a sesame allergy. A decade ago, a smaller study estimated sesame allergy affected only 0.1%.
“Food allergy is a serious health issue in the United States, reportedly affecting approximately 8% of children and 10% of adults, resulting in substantial psychosocial, economic, and physical health burdens,” the researchers wrote in their study, published in JAMA Open Network.
"It can be trickier to avoid sesame than other major allergens," co-author Christopher Warren wrote, because sesame is often sprinkled on foods, added to dressings or added into condiments in small quantities. It's also not always labeled clearly. For instance, a label might say “tahini” instead of sesame. But tahini is made from hulled sesame.
He told NPR sesame should be the ninth allergy listed on food packages. "If you don't have any appropriate labeling, it makes it a lot more difficult for people to screen what they're eating."
You can read the full study at JAMA Open Network.
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