Less than 1% of adults and children in the U.S. have an allergy to sesame, but exposure to the seed and its derivatives can be incredibly life threatening for those who are allergic. As a result, regulators passed the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act in 2021, requiring manufacturers and retailers to update their labeling to better warn consumers and prevent exposure to the allergen. It finally went into effect January 1, 2023.
Now, sesame is federally recognized as a dangerous allergen, on par with dairy, eggs, fish, and peanuts, which already require rigorous labeling. How can manufacturers ensure their compliance? Here’s what to know.
The New Food Safety Guidelines for Sesame
Regulations have always required that manufacturers list sesame as an ingredient in any product it's used in, but the FASTER Act greatly expands these requirements. Now classified as a major allergen, manufacturers must clearly list sesame on labels even when it's a component of another ingredient, such as "spice mix" or "natural flavor." For food labels that have a "Contains" section to warn consumers about known allergens and other specific ingredients, products that contain sesame must now list the ingredient there.
The FASTER Act goes beyond labeling to also further regulate how food and beverage manufacturers prevent cross-contamination. As a result, the law impacts everything from sanitation processes to food handling protocols and even to operational layout. Depending on the size of an operation, becoming compliant with these new food safety guidelines can have a major impact on production processes and budgets.
How to Comply With New Sesame Food Safety Guidelines
Meeting the requirements of the new FASTER Act can require a wide range of changes depending on the size and scale of your production facility. Here are three steps manufacturers can take to ensure compliance:
- Update labeling. Labels for any products must now list sesame as an ingredient in every single instance it’s used. For example, products that contain tahini spice must list “sesame” in parentheses as a component of the ingredient. If the base flour of a product contains any sesame at all, sesame must also be listed as an ingredient of the flour.
- Bolster cross-contamination prevention measures. Manufacturers should carefully review their cleaning and sanitation protocols to ensure they adequately eliminate sesame traces from equipment and surfaces between production runs. If space, budget, and scheduling allows, it’s recommended to completely separate production lines and equipment for products that contain sesame. It's also important to update employee training on proper cross-contamination prevention.
- Investigate suppliers. Beyond their own measures to prevent cross-contamination, manufacturers should check with their suppliers to ensure they uphold the same food safety standards. Request documentation from vendors for insight into their own sanitation protocols and other strategies for preventing cross-contamination. Find out whether they interact with sesame in their facilities. In addition, consider periodic testing of ingredients to ensure there are no trace amounts of sesame present.
Though just recently subject to strict regulations, sesame is an incredibly dangerous ingredient for consumers who are allergic to it. Complying with the new FASTER Act is critical for food and beverage manufacturers to ensure public safety. Adhering to new requirements can require significant investment, ranging from basic updates to product labeling, to dramatic operational overhauls with segregated equipment and production lines. Following best practices reduces the risks to consumer health, product recalls, loss of reputation, and regulatory fines. However, ensuring compliance can be difficult without the expertise of a third-party consultant.
AIB International is a trusted leader in helping manufacturers build and enforce a strong food safety culture, as well as guiding customers through the complex and evolving regulatory landscape. In addition to program development and employee training, AIB International provides specific education about complying with the new sesame regulations. Learn more here.