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Mother and daughter reviewing food label in grocery store

Caution: Sesame, A Major Food Allergen, May Appear More in Foods

By Dr. Lauren Smith, Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at CHKD

Parents whose children are allergic to sesame will need to be extra cautious when purchasing food or eating at a restaurant.

A new rule designed to protect those who are allergic to sesame has prompted many restaurants and food manufacturers to add the food allergen to their products to avoid the difficult task of certifying their facilities are sesame-free.

Why is this happening?

As of January 1, 2023, the U.S. government began recognizing sesame as a major food allergen, making it subject to specific labeling and manufacturing requirements. This designation means that food and restaurant brands must now disclose if their products contain sesame or may have come in contact with the ingredient.

Sesame joins eight other allergens on this list, including milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans – but with one major difference. Sesame seeds are very small and lightweight, making them hard to keep track of. This presents a high risk of cross-contamination in a restaurant or manufacturing facility where they are used. These businesses face a difficult and potentially expensive challenge to certify their facilities as 100% sesame-free or find ways to ensure the seeds are kept away from other foods.

Instead, many companies have chosen to add small amounts of sesame to their foods, particularly bread products, to avoid these requirements. The list of companies reformulating recipes in this way includes major restaurant chains, large commercial bakeries, and smaller brands that provide products to grocery stores and even schools, according to an Associated Press story.

What can you do to protect your child?

Families with children who experience an allergy to sesame must be extra-vigilant in reading labels and restaurant menus during these changes. Foods that were previously safe, may now contain sesame.

Nearly two million people in this country are allergic to sesame. The allergy can cause itchy throat, mouth rash, coughing, vomiting, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your child is experiencing difficulty breathing, or swelling of the mouth or tongue, after a potential exposure to sesame, seek emergency care immediately.

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About Children's  Specialty Group Children's Specialty Group is the only pediatric multi-specialty practice serving southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The physicians of Children's Specialty Group base their practices at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters and serve as faculty in the Department of Pediatrics at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Learn more about our specialists here.