US Agency Permits Sesame to be Added to Foods

03 August 2023

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently said that by law food makers are permitted to add sesame to their products. They also must identify sesame content in their foods on product packaging.

Sesame is the seed of the sesamum or benne plant. It is used to make oil and the seeds themselves are often used on bread or baked goods. The seeds come in black and white colors.

FILE - Sesame dinner rolls sit on a mat in Concord, N.H., on Oct. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead, File)
FILE - Sesame dinner rolls sit on a mat in Concord, N.H., on Oct. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead, File)

Sesame is used in many foods to add a nutty flavor or some crunch.

But the American non-profit group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), says about 1.6 million people are allergic to the seeds. Someone who is allergic can get very sick after eating the seeds. People with the allergy usually learn to stay away from traditional foods that contain sesame.

The CSPI is protesting to the FDA about a law that went into effect in January.

The Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research Act, known as FASTER, listed sesame as a major allergen requiring identification on packaging for the first time.

Some food companies made changes to their production centers in reaction to the new law. Some cut sesame use completely. Others, however, decided to add sesame to products that did not usually contain it. As long as they identified the sesame on the food packaging, they were obeying the law fully.

The CSPI and other organizations argue that adding sesame to foods that did not contain it in the past limits food choices for allergic people.

Some food companies say it is too hard to prevent sesame from getting into some products, or it is too costly to change their production centers. It is easier to add sesame and identify it legally.

Some restaurants are also adding sesame to their foods and noting it on menus or meal listings in order to meet the requirements of the food law.

Robert Earl is a food safety advocate. He said the practice will put people with food allergies in danger of getting sick. "It puts our community at greater risk," he said. Earl added that food companies and restaurants adding sesame to products reduces food choices.

Earl said his organization – Food Allergy Research and Education – has received a number of complaints from people who said they got sick by eating formerly "safe" products.

Ruchi Gupta is a children's doctor at Northwestern University. She is director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma research there. Gupta called the FDA's decision "disappointing," and noted that the food company and restaurant changes are permitted by law. However, she said she hoped the FDA would have "come out in a way to try to discourage" putting sesame in unusual products.

Robert Califf leads the Food and Drug Administration. In a message posted online in 2023, he wrote about companies adding sesame to their foods. He called it "a practice with an outcome we do not support." He said it does not break any rule but that it "limits options for consumers who are allergic to sesame."

He also noted that consumers should "check the label every time you buy a food product – even if you have eaten it before and didn't have an allergic reaction."

The F.D.A. also said companies cannot use language like "may contain sesame" if the product does not contain it.

Peter Lurie heads the CSPI. He said he hoped the FDA's recent statements would send a message to food companies. He said "it's on the companies to act responsibly," if the FDA is not going to force them to make changes.

I'm Dan Friedell.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by the Associated Press.


Words in This Story

packaging –n. the outside container a product comes in, such as a box

crunch n. a word used to describe the sound or feeling of chewing something that has a hard outer part

allergic –adj. used to describe the experience of getting sick from some part of food or a bite from a bug

advocate –n. a person who speaks for something or someone else who does not have a strong voice

discourage –v. to argue against something happening

commissioner –n. a person who is in charge of an agency or organization

practice –n. a way of doing things, such as making a food product

option –n. something that may be chosen

consumer –n. a person or group of people who purchase a product

label –n. a piece of information on the outside of product that tells what is inside