Murphy, Blumenthal call for sesame product regulation

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and U.S. Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take swift action to require labeling of products that contain sesame or sesame seeds. Currently, sesame is not required to be labeled as an allergen on food products.

The senators heard directly from concerned Connecticut residents about the dangers caused by this lack of labeling for individuals allergic to sesame. In response, the senators wrote a letter to FDA Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff requesting that the agency require that sesame — one of the most common allergens in the United States — be listed specifically by name on ingredient lists and that sesame be included in inspections for cross-contact.

“Given the severity and growing prevalence of sesame allergies, we respectfully ask the FDA to move expeditiously under its current authority to require sesame labeling and inspection of sesame cross-contact to help protect the health and safety of our constituents,” wrote the senators. “Without required uniform labeling of the presence of sesame, consumers with this serious allergy have no way of protecting themselves or their family members from its potentially life-threatening consequences. As Congress recognized when it passed FALCPA, accurate and comprehensive allergen labeling is essential.”

Lauren Solinsky, a Weston resident and college junior who is allergic to sesame, said, “For me, it’s scary that something as small as a sesame seed could kill me. As the demand for ‘healthy’ grainy food is increasing, the world is becoming more deadly for those of us with allergies to the grains. Sesame is now found as a ‘flavoring’ or ‘spice’ in many products that you would never expect. Even in the best situations, I can sometimes find an errant sesame seed on food that is prepared specifically for me.”

She continued, “I am relieved that many manufacturers are starting to label for sesame on their own, but it is really confusing to keep straight which companies do label and which do not. This applies to lotions and cosmetics as well since many companies are adding sesame oil to their lines. Requiring labeling of all sesame products will drastically improve the health and peace of mind of me, my family, and the thousands of sesame allergic Americans across the country.”

Trumbull resident Leah Pucciarelli, whose seven-year-old daughter is allergic to sesame, said, “Of the seven foods my daughter Allison is allergic to, sesame is the most difficult to manage. This is due to both a lack of labeling and also the fact that sesame seeds are used atop many baked goods and can easily fall off during the baking and packaging processes. Not being able to tell by the label if a food is safe means my daughter cannot eat a food unless we’ve called the company — which sometimes takes days for a response —and even then, because sesame isn’t treated as an allergen, we often do not get a clear response and have to forgo the food entirely. When you’re trying to nourish a growing child with an already extremely restricted diet, eliminating foods just because of limited information is beyond frustrating.”

“Currently, the inclusion of sesame as a major allergen in processed food is not explicitly regulated by FALCPA, making it difficult for those with sesame allergy to determine which products may contain this allergen,” said James R. Baker, Jr., MD, CEO of Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), an organization representing the 15 million Americans with food allergies. “With a significant documented increase in the prevalence of sesame allergy, which can be life-threatening, we are pleased to see Sen. Murphy bring attention to the need and means for improving labeling to help families managing food allergies keep themselves and their loved ones safe.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest Chief Regulatory Affairs Attorney Laura MacCleery said, “Several hundred thousand Americans are allergic to sesame, and their allergy is no less serious and no less life-threatening than that of those allergic to peanuts, shellfish, or other common allergens. The Food and Drug Administration could easily protect these consumers by including sesame among the so-called Big 8 food allergens for purposes of labeling and education. We’re grateful to Sen. Murphy, Sen. Blumenthal, Sen. Markey, and others who similarly wish the FDA would follow the lead of Canada, the European Union, Australia, and other nations that require labeling of sesame and sesame-based ingredients.”

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