Sesame isn't declared on more than half of food products that contain it, which could put some people at risk for an allergic reaction, researchers warn.
A serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) can be deadly.
By 2023, sesame will have to be listed on labels of food products sold in the United States, but the new study, published recently in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, found serious problems with labels on shelves today.
"Sesame is the ninth most common childhood food allergy in the U.S., yet many people don't recognize it on food labels, or it's missing entirely," said senior study author Dr. Katie Kennedy, an allergist from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
She and her colleagues analyzed 379 allergic reactions to sesame reported by 327 people and found that more than 56% of the products that contained sesame did not declare it on the label.
"What we discovered in our study was that amongst those who reported events related to accidental ingestion of sesame, many reported they didn't know that words such as 'tahini' meant sesame," Kennedy said in a journal news release. "Because the word 'sesame' is often not used on labels, accidents happen at a greater rate."
Most of the reports (85%) were from parents providing information on reactions to sesame experienced by their children.
"About 48% of the allergic reactions required hospitalizations or an emergency room visit," said allergist and study co-author Dr. Kim Nguyen, also from CHOP.
"Most of the events [63%] occurred at home; about 11% of events occurred at a restaurant; 5% at a friend's house, and 4% of events occurred at school. The most common reason for reporting an event was the occurrence of an allergic reaction following ingestion [99%] as opposed to contact-only exposure," Nguyen said in the release.
Some of the reports were due to products declared as containing "spices" or "natural flavors" and required consumers to call the company to clarify the ingredients, Kennedy said.
One of the events occurred in a child with a sesame allergy who ate meatloaf made with breadcrumbs. The parents later learned that the "spices" labeled on the breadcrumbs contained sesame.
Clear and specific product labeling for sesame is crucial to prevent allergic reactions, especially anaphylaxis, in people who are allergic to sesame, the researchers concluded.
For more on sesame allergy, go to Food Allergy Research & Education.
SOURCE: Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, news release, Dec. 15, 2021