A new study from Northwestern Medicine has found that more than 1.5 million children and adults have a sesame allergy, which is now more than previously known figures.
Currently, sesame labeling is not required by law and is often labeled in a confusing manner, such as tahini, increasing the risk of accidental ingestion.
The new study has provided the first up-to-date estimation of the current prevalence rate of sesame allergy among American children and adults across all 50 states.
Lead study author Dr. Ruchi Gupta said, “Our study shows sesame allergy is prevalent in the U.S. in both adults and children and can cause severe allergic reactions. It is important to advocate for labeling sesame in packaged food. Sesame is in a lot of foods as hidden ingredients. It is very hard to avoid.”
Dr. Gupta is the director of the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research at Feinberg.
The study is published in JAMA Network Open.
The study informs the drug regulatory body – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – about the potential risks of sesame allergy. The FDA is currently considering whether sesame should be included in the list of key food allergens. The agency is also considering making product labeling mandatory.
Unlike in other countries, such as the European Union and Australia, current law in the United States does not require products labeling sesame.
According to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2014, labeling of the top eight allergenic foods – such as peanut, milk, shellfish, tree nuts, egg, wheat, soy and finfish along with proteins derived from them – is mandatory.
The current study also found that more than 1.1 million people reported having either a physician-diagnosed sesame allergy or a history of sesame allergy.
The researchers explained that people who report sesame allergies or experience potentially severe allergic reactions to sesame are not receiving a clinical diagnosis of their allergies.
Another study author Christopher Warren, who is also an investigator with the Center for Food Allergy and Asthma Research, said, “Clinical confirmation of suspected food allergies is essential to reduce the risk of unnecessary allergen avoidance as well as ensure patients receive essential counseling and prescription of emergency epinephrine.” Four in five patients with sesame allergy are known to have at least one other food allergy. Over half the population have a peanut allergy, one-third with a tree-nut allergy, a quarter with an egg allergy, and one in five with a cow’s milk allergy.