It has been interesting to see how brands and manufacturers are handling the ninth major allergen — sesame.
Food recalls for mislabeled allergens are more common than any other reason for manufacturers, and the numbers are creeping up. Just in the last week alone, I’ve seen sesame appear in sandwiches where it wasn’t expected. Other recalls like egg in yogurt or almonds in a blueberry-peach crisp have happened just in the last few days as well. Recalls are expensive accidents and can be brand-ending.
However, when Center for Science in the Public Interest launches a campaign going after one or more restaurant brands, everyone in the food service industry should take notice. The consumer watchdog group, for example, sent a March 28 email, calling for the FDA to “crack down” on what it referred to as an “unethical practice before companies start abusing this rule with other common and potentially deadly allergens.” It referenced the FASTER Act, which became law in April 2021, that requires manufacturers to list sesame as a food allergen if present in packaged foods beginning Jan. 1, 2023.
As the email stated, “At least five big brands have admitted to adding sesame in the wake of the FASTER Act: Chick-fil-A, Dave’s Killer Bread, Culver’s, Olive Garden and Pan-O-Gold. Many more have quietly joined the list without any public explanation.”
One of the new changes is they are now called the “major” allergens, not “top” or “big.” For years we’ve been doing allergy charts for our clients — tagging things like peanuts, shellfish and wheat so that the consumer knows what they’re eating. As of the first of this year, we had to start tagging sesame. The challenge for our brands, as I’m sure you all are facing, is that ingredient labels are just now being mandated to include sesame. So, it takes a little while for the ripple down to find out a core ingredient has sesame, and then you find out the hamburger bun you’re making now must declare when it contains sesame. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has its sights set on flipping the script on these companies and many more like them. It’s worth noting that they referred to cross-contamination in food manufacturing versus cross-contact, which is what our Food Code states.
There is panic in the air when it comes to this newly tagged major allergen. Panic for the consumer who thought they were going to get more information and more choices when they eat out — panic from brands and manufacturers who want to be fully transparent and are concerned without tagging “sesame,” whether it is directly or indirectly in their food. Many in the industry are taking the lead from the extremely confusing precautionary allergen labeling that the FDA set up ages ago to say “may contain,” or other statements like that, and the result has been confusion escalating to a fever pitch right.
I know this isn’t easy to do. Since 2010 we’ve been doing it for clients all over the country, heck, all over the world, and it is hard but it’s worth it. The bounce-back from consumers is going to be strong on this. It already is and is just going to get stronger. Seeing CSPI come out with this email asking for support to take action makes it obvious how big of a deal this could become, and it’ll be interesting to see how it falls out.
Brands that weren’t necessarily comfortable with saying if something contained sesame and were unsure if the item could stay sesame free, began labeling it to avoid mislabeling. Those brands are now being met with a double-edged sword. It excludes more consumers from eating their food, shows that diners with sesame allergies safety isn’t a top priority and ultimately leaves a really bad taste in people’s mouths.
To date MenuTrinfo is responsible for menu nutritional information at over 100K US restaurants, food allergy and gluten free ANAB accredited training for hundreds of thousands of food service professionals. AllerTrain is the chosen food allergy training by NEHA providing continuing educational credit hours for those that take and pass its course. Finally, MenuTrinfo delivers food allergy confidence and allergen transparency to today’s food allergic consumer through its onsite division offerings, AllerCheck, Certified Free From allergens for spaces and food products which is an ISO 17065 certification and expert consultation and incident response support when needed.