Sesame, which officially became the ninth major allergen this year, has been causing some unexpected trouble in businesses across the food industry – with difficult consequences for consumers and restaurants alike. The new law around managing sesame requires careful cleaning to prevent cross-contact of foods with and without sesame. But because it can be difficult for restaurants to guarantee the removal of such contamination through this cleaning, many food suppliers have added small amounts of sesame flour to products that did not previously include the allergen. Their aim was to help guests avoid guesswork about the foods they can’t eat, but the result has been more people unwittingly consuming sesame in foods they had previously been able to eat safely. While some restaurant brands have stated that they have removed sesame from products (Jimmy John’s) and not added sesame to products that didn’t already contain it (McDonald’s), many restaurants are finding the new law on sesame difficult to follow – and are leaving allergic consumers confused and frustrated as a result. While we wait for a solution, the restaurants that can manage to navigate the new law without introducing sesame in places where it didn’t exist previously stand to gain some loyal guests: There are currently more than 1.5 million Americans with a sesame allergy.
In 2023, the FDA began recognizing sesame as an official allergen, triggering a response in some restaurants that has surprised some consumers. As a recent report from Fast Company indicates, sesame seeds are so prone to cross-contamination due to their small size that it’s challenging for restaurants and food producers alike to guarantee their absence from foods. So instead, sesame is being added to recipes where, in many cases, it wasn’t present before, in order to provide greater clarity to consumers about the presence of the allergen. This leaves allergic guests – who can be especially loyal to restaurants that support them – with fewer options and at potentially greater risk for consuming a cross-contaminated food. If you’re looking for ways to abide by the new rules while offering options to allergic guests, the group Food Allergy Research & Education may be of help.
Sesame is the ninth major allergen in the U.S. – and it’s everywhere. Menu items as varied as breads, hummus and stir fries may all contain it. But what makes sesame challenging to manage in a restaurant kitchen is that there are more than a dozen food names that imply they contain it. Benne, halvah and tahini are just a few of them, and sesame is often hiding in the spice blends or “natural flavors” mentioned on ingredient labels, according to the National Restaurant Association. As you plan menus and dish variations, be alert to the aliases of the ingredients you’re using – particularly those known to trigger serious food allergies.