Sesame allergy is one of the 14 main allergens in the UK and must be clearly marked on all food products and displayed on restaurant menus. According to Anaphylaxis UK, 80% of children will not outgrow this allergy.
The sesame plant produces edible seeds; the seeds could be creamy white or charcoal black in colour. Sesame oil is dark in colour and frequently used in Asian dishes. According to FARE, sesame seeds and oil are quite common in everyday food.
The NHS states that the most common type of allergy to seeds is a sesame allergy. Other seeds known to cause an allergy are mustard seed, sunflower seed, and poppy seed.
You can read about Mustard Allergy – one of the 14 major food allergens here.
14 Major Food Allergens List
Food businesses must ensure that allergen information is stated clearly on the website, menus, via phone calls, and labelled properly on packed and non-prepacked food. Here is the 14 food allergens list:
Sesame Oil Allergy
Sesame oil is unique in production in comparison to other types of oils. Peanut oil, for example, is typically refined in production to a level where the protein allergen disappears or becomes very little. Sesame oil is often cold-pressed which leaves it unrefined; this allows it to keep its allergenicity. An individual with an allergy to sesame oil may have an allergic reaction after consuming an “unrefined” product.
Sesame oil is supplied in unrefined form and can be labelled as “vegetable” oil in products, such as margarine. Additionally, sesame oil is popular in Asian cooking and may be used in salad dressings and other recipes. Other products containing sesame oil include cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.
Food businesses must ensure products that contain sesame oil are labelled appropriately, and “sesame” should be bolded, highlighted, or in a contrasting colour.
Are Sesame Seeds Nuts?
Sesame seeds are seeds, not nuts. Sesame seeds have a similar biochemical structure to nuts; however, which can cause an allergic reaction. Consequently, people who are allergic to sesame seeds could be at risk of an allergic reaction if they consume peanuts.
According to Very Well Health, this reaction is known as cross-reactivity. Antibodies will mistakenly identify the antibodies in tree nuts as being from sesame seeds. Cross-reactivity between sesame seeds and nuts could happen if someone eats hazelnuts, pistachios, black walnuts, cashews, and macadamias.
Food businesses in the UK must clearly state this allergen on their products and menus to protect consumers with a sesame seed allergy.
Sesame Food Products
The most common source of sesame in foods:
- Tahini (sesame seed paste used in many Turkish and Middle Eastern dishes)
- Hummus (a paste made from chickpeas and tahini)
- Halva (sweetened product also made from tahini)
- Bakery products
- Bagels (such as Simit)
- Gomashio (made from roasted, ground sesame seed, and sea salt)
Pre-packed food may also contain sesame, as such food businesses must take proactive measures to ensure that packages are correctly and clearly labelled. Some examples of pre-packed foods that may contain sesame are:
- Veggie/vegan burgers
- Pre-packed delicatessen foods
UK Restaurants Using Sesame Oil
Sesame is difficult to handle in the food industry, the seeds can be in a dough, and oil could survive the heat from an unwashed pan. This makes sesame cling to surfaces of food. For this reason, the NHS advises food businesses not to reuse cooking oil as this could lead to cross-contamination and allergic reactions.
Cross contamination is a major risk in the food industry. Cross contamination with sesame is when a sesame-free food comes in contact with sesame during meal preparation, product manufacturing, or storing process. Cross-contamination can have devastating effects as different allergens are accidentally mixed together, as they won’t have been labelled or communicated clearly to customers.
Food businesses further have to state “may contain traces of sesame” on products if there is a risk of cross-contamination. Even while unintentional, traces can still appear in food items if they are manufactured or produced in an area which handles sesame.
As of 2021, Natasha’s Law, requires that all food packaged in the same place they are sold, known as PPDS foods, must declare the 14 major allergens in their ingredients if present. Food allergens must now be labeled in bold, italics, contrasting colours, or highlighted.
Sesame Allergy Symptoms
Reports from the NHS show that 1 in 100 are likely to have a sesame allergy, and children with multiple existing allergies may also have a sesame allergy. Sesame allergy symptoms are not noticeable immediately but could show signs one hour after consumption. Sesame allergic symptoms include:
- Rash (hives or “nettle” rash)
- Swelling around face
- Itchy throat
- Anaphylaxis (This reaction is severe, but is less common)
Anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening, can occur in extreme cases. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include:
- A swelling of the throat, making it especially difficult to breath or talk
Food businesses and consumers need to take proper management to reduce risk. The right steps to take are:
- Asking for detailed information about ingredients;
- Take due diligence at all times;
- Receiving expert medical advice.
LiberEat - Allergen Error Detection Software
Food allergen rules and regulations continue to change and evolve. Food businesses in production, hospitality, catering, and retail must be vigilant when working with ingredients, products, and dishes containing allergens and exercise due diligence when providing ingredient and allergen information to consumers. Successful allergen management is a big part of Food Safety professionals creating a culture of care and excellence within their teams.
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