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Almonds, pecans, shellfish, alcohol, chocolate, bananas, beef, lactose, and avocado. These are just a few of the allergies that we have in my immediate family. Having grown up with no allergies at all, I never had more than an intellectual curiosity about how people react to different foods. Obviously, that all changes once someone you love has trouble breathing because of something you cooked or served.

I was reminded of this recently, after reading a piece in the Washington Post about allergies to sesame seed, and ongoing developments to address it. I had never even heard of sesame allergies and as I read, I thought back to last Friday night when I cooked a stir fry with Thai noodles and sesame oil (and seeds) for the family. Maybe I need to count myself lucky that of all these allergies that my son, wife and daughter in law have, sesame is apparently not one of them.

Now, I’m sure many food industry professionals were already aware of sesame allergens, and many are also up to date on the Faster Act, mandating cleaning of manufacturing equipment to ensure foods are sesame-free or clear labeling of any foods with sesame. For those that aren’t, maybe you’ll be surprised as I was, to learn that some food manufacturers are choosing to add sesame flour to products that previously had not contained sesame, to comply with the new law.

In short, since these companies found themselves unable to guarantee that their products were sesame free, they added the flour and changed the label to add sesame as an ingredient. Unfortunately, the Post article points out several instances where no label was provided with the product (fast food hamburgers for example), or someone got sick eating a product they trusted and had previously enjoyed with no issues prior to the addition of sesame flour to the formulation.

While this result might seem to defeat the purpose of the law, I’m not going to judge it as I have never even been in a processing facility that involved sesame products. I can only imagine the challenge of keeping this equipment safe from this allergen. This solution of adding the flour to non-sesame products will certainly help the processor comply with the new law, but how does that help the college student in North Carolina from the article who can hardly eat anything at the dining hall as a result?

This is a critical topic that the FPSA Prepared Foods Council has discussed internally to share approaches that members are taking in their facilities, as well as in their customers’. After multiple discussions, it was clear that there is still much uncertainty in the market and that more education in this area is needed. On August 3rd, the Council will bring together a panel of experts to share this important issue and how they are helping food manufacturers deal with it. This webinar is free of charge and open to any industry professionals interested in learning more. For those not able to attend the webinar live, we will record the event and be happy to share with anyone who is interested.

For those looking to learn more about allergens and getting involved with FPSA’s Councils or Networks, consider joining the Association where you’ll get to network with a variety of food industry experts and take advantage of member resources to help you be even more effective in your business.


Andy Drennan, FPSA SVP