New FDA Allergen Law May Have Unexpected Consequences For Supporters

Food allergies can be a matter of life and death, which is why accurate labeling is important. However, while more stringent labeling laws might seem like a good thing, they may also have some unforeseen consequences. As the FDA prepares to roll out a new law stating that companies must explicitly label the presence of sesame on the packaging, the Associated Press reports that many manufacturers are actually opting to add the ingredient into more products — but why?

Sesame is the ninth most common allergy in the U.S. When allergy sufferers come into contact with even trace amounts of sesame, FARE explains that the seed's proteins bind to immunoglobulin antibodies and trigger a defensive response, prompting mild to life-threatening symptoms. Despite using good judgment, the fact is that sesame can still be found in an array of products such as spices, dips, crackers, candy, processed meats, and even margarine. Naturally, clearly stating the presence of sesame packaging, rather than listing it in the order it appears, is essential.

Following in the footsteps of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, the FDA announced that food products manufactured in the U.S. are required to declare the presence of sesame starting on January 1, 2023. That said, these labeling laws don't necessarily translate into a world with fewer sesame products. In fact, many advocates and allergy sufferers might be surprised to learn that the new regulations might do just the opposite.

Sesame labeling laws prompt an increase in sesame products

With stricter labeling laws, CBS News explains that in order for a product to be deemed sesame-free, companies must take precautionary steps to prevent cross-contamination. Alternatively, these extra steps (which may be costly and time-consuming) can be avoided if the allergen is simply added to products. Consequently, the latter is what many of the nation's biggest food brands are opting to do.

Rather than risk cross-contamination at processing facilities, the Associated Press reports that fast food chains like Chick-fil-A and Wendy's are planning to introduce sesame seeds to buns. Whereas sesame flour, will be instead added to a range of baked goods available from retailers like Franz Family Bakeries and Pan-O-Gold Baking Company — even Olive Garden has revealed that a fraction of sesame flour will be included in their signature breadsticks dough.

While the news may come as a shock for consumers with or without allergies, this isn't the first time that companies have reworked their products to include allergens as a means of dodging complicated labeling laws. In fact, CBS News previously reported after Kellogg's had added traces of peanut flour to crackers and cookies, it created an uproar among faithful consumers. This begs the question, will the inclusion of sesame in more of our favorite foods also spark similar consumer resistance?