2021 Regulatory Updates: Sesame and Healthy
By RDBA Executive Director Annette Maggi, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Early in 2021, here’s been movement on key regulatory issues, including labeling sesame as an allergen and use of the word “healthy.” Updates on both are provided here.
Signed into law by President Biden on April 23, 2021, the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research Act (FASTER Act) adds a nineth allergen to the requirement in food labeling and seeks various recommendations related to tracking and managing food allergens.
The “Big 8” allergen list hasn’t been updated in 17 years, but with the passage of the FASTER Act, sesame changes the list to the “Big 9.” In November of last year, the Food and Drug Administration published voluntary labeling guidance related to sesame, but this recent move by the administration will make it mandatory for food companies to label sesame as an allergy by January 1, 2023.
The rationale for this decision is based on the fact that sesame allergens appear to be increasing in incidence, and that 25 percent of the allergic reactions are in cases where undeclared sesame was consumed. Spices and flavors can contain sesame, which until now has not been required to be declared on the label. Consumers may not be aware that falafel, hummus, and certain rices contain sesame as do some chips, cereals, and snack bars. Allergen labeling will require that sesame is obviously stated on all these foods.
Other parts of the FASTER Act require development of recommendations on allergy data collection as related to prevalence and severity, reduction of risk related to living with food allergies, and new therapeutics to prevent, treat, cure and manage food allergies.
While this implied nutrient content claim has been defined since implementation of the 1994 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, questions were raised in 2016 regarding the “healthy” criteria. This led the FDA to begin a public process to update the healthy nutrient content claim to ensure it aligned with current science and federal dietary recommendations, specifically related to type of fat in a product, added sugars, and healthy dietary patterns. FDA issued a request for information and comment in September 2016 and held a public meeting in March of 2017. In May of 2021, the FDA announced it would begin the process of developing a symbol the industry could use on labels of food products that meet the “healthy” definition despite the fact that they have not yet confirmed new criteria to meet this claim.
Most experts agree it will be several years before healthy is sorted out. While the FDA works on an updated “healthy” definition and method of communication, food retailers and manufacturers can use the claim under the Guidance for Industry: Use of the Term "Healthy" in the Labeling of Human Food Products.