Decoding the Food Allergen Dilemma in Sesame Seeds

Sesame allergies may not receive as much publicity as other food allergens, but the reactions can be just as serious. Allergy due to ingestion of sesame seeds or oil engenders at times when the body’s immune system prompts an inverse reaction to the proteins available in these seeds. The allergic reactions to sesame seeds may range from gastrointestinal problems, hives and skin irritation to anaphylaxis.
Sensitivity to sesame is on the rise & its allergic reactions are surprisingly common. It is one of the most common seed allergen against the other potential seed allergens like sunflower, poppy and mustard. The growing popularity of sesame seeds as a convenience food has apparently contributed to its allergy rates in recent years. So if you have a sensitivity to sesame, be rest assured that you’re not alone.

Sesame as a Food Allergen

Sesame has been designated as a major allergen throughout Europe and the Middle East, Canada and Australia. This obligates the international food manufacturers to comply with the labelling requirements, and carefully handle the seeds while formulating their products.
Joining the league, US President Joe Biden recently signed legislation declaring sesame a major food allergen for the American market. The new law, called the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research (FASTER) Act requires all products that use sesame seeds or items derived from them to be explicitly labelled after Jan. 1, 2023. Now sesame seeds will join dairy, soy, wheat, peanuts, eggs, tree nuts, fish and shellfish as an ingredient that must be specifically called out on food packaging.
The declaration of sesame seed as the 9th major food allergen had been a widely expected move. The FDA law directs the manufacturers to mandatorily declare sesame in the ingredient list when it is used as a “flavoring” or “spice” or when the common or usual name (such as tahini) does not specify sesame. This labelling compliance will make it safer for consumers who are allergic or sensitive to sesame to avoid these products.

Understanding Sesame Allergies

A sesame allergy is an allergy to the sesamum plant, including products that originate from the plant (like sesame seeds) or derived from the plant (like sesame oil). When someone has a sesame allergy, their immune system over-defends the body against sesame proteins, and causes the body to develop an allergic reaction whenever the person eats a food that contains sesame.
The immune system of sesame allergic people develop IgE antibodies, a special grade of allergy antibodies to fend off the sesame proteins. The IgE antibodies detects these proteins & trigger symptoms of an allergic reaction seconds to hours after the person eats a food containing sesame.

Rise in sesame allergies

Sesame seed is a prevalent & versatile ingredient found in a slew of comfort foods around the world. From Tahini to hummus and sushi to baked goods, sesame is widely popular in global cuisines for its zingy taste and nutty crunchiness. With an increased consumption of sesame based products, the rise in allergy rates is inevitable.

Sesame oil is a traditional cooking staple for the Middle Eastern and Asian food preparations for its neutral flavor & health promoting properties. The popularity of international cuisine is yet another reason to fuel the rise in sesame allergies.

sesame allergy

If you have a reaction

Sesame intolerance varies from person to person, and its reactions can be unpredictable. The symptoms of a sesame allergy reaction may range from mild, such as hives, to severe, such as anaphylaxis.
Epinephrine is the first-line treatment for anaphylaxis. Keeping an epinephrine injection device shall save you from the ensuing trouble at all times. Here are some common symptoms to let you detect if you have a sesame allergy or not:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Low pulse rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itchiness inside the mouth
  • Abdominal pain
  • Flushing in the face
  • Hives

Diagnosing a sesame allergy

Should you suspect a food allergy and develop a symptom, make a note of what you consumed just prior to your reaction. This will help your healthcare provider narrow down the possible causes of the reaction and find an appropriate treatment.
Also, a food challenge is always incremental to identify the root-cause of the reaction. With food challenge, you may assess the reaction to the suspected food by consuming it in varying amounts.

Treating sesame allergies

People experiencing anaphylaxis, due to sesame may get an injected dose of Epinephrine to relieve the reaction. Epinephrine tends to reverse the course of an anaphylactic response. For dealing with severe reactions, you should always carry the auto-injectors that contains epinephrine, like an EpiPen. This will help you diagnose your sesame allergy in a timely manner.

Avoiding sesame intake

Some foods such as bread products containing sesame, sesame oil, and tahini, specifically list sesame as an ingredient. Avoiding contact with these items is a simple way to prevent an allergic reaction.
Sesame is a common hidden allergen in most of the countries. As it is not always listed on the food labels of products, you should better avoid foods that have ambiguous product labels and fail to specify ingredients.

Key Takeaways for the Sesame Sensitive

  • Check food labels
  • Seek medical advice
  • Carry prescribed medication at all times
  • Learn how and when to use your adrenaline auto-injector
  • Ensure that asthma is well managed

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