Everything to know about the sesame allergy. What it is, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Includes a list of foods to avoid so you can stay safe!
The sesame allergy is one of the major food allergens in the world. It is one of the most common food allergies in Canada. This allergy used to be quite rare, however, more and more children and adults are developing this allergy every year. If you have been diagnosed with a sesame seed allergy, you are not alone.
While you may think that a sesame allergy means to avoid hamburger buns with seeds on top, there are many other foods that use sesame in the forms of oil, in medications, and even pet food. All can cause an allergic reaction to people with this sesame allergy.
This article walks you through all aspects of a sesame allergy, symptoms, what to avoid, what you can still enjoy, and how to best manage your sesame allergy.
- Sesame and sesame products can cause a range of allergic reactions from mild itching to a severe anaphylactic shock.
- With the FASTER Act Amendment of 2023, food manufacturing companies are required by law in America to list sesame as an allergen on their nutrition labels.
- Many food companies have responded to this FASTER Act by purposefully adding sesame to their ingredients as a means of saving money on manufacturing practices. Please check all ingredients of all foods, including ones that had previously been deemed safe.
What is a sesame allergy
A sesame allergy is when the body’s immune system thinks that a sesame seed is a threat. This triggers an autoimmune response, also known as an allergic reaction.
Sesame allergies are quite common. Sesame is the ninth most common food allergy in children and adults in the U.S. Studies are also showing that this allergy is increasing significantly worldwide, especially over the past 20 years.
When a person with sesame allergies is exposed to a sesame in any form, protein in the sesame bind to the IgE antibodies in the body. This triggers the person’s immune defense system, causing an allergic reaction.
The FASTER Act in America (Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education and Research) mandated careful cleaning of manufacturing equipment to ensure foods are sesame (and other allergy) free. This act went into effect on January 1, 2023. This added sesame to the labeling of food allergen statements on ingredient labels.
This labeling is already in place for: Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.
Most children and adults will develop an allergic reaction either immediately, after a few minutes, or as long as a few hours after being exposed to sesame. Reactions can range from mild to severe reactions. Remember, some people can be so allergic that even touching or smelling the food can cause a reaction.
A list of possible reaction to sesame include:
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat
- Asthma attacks
- Eczema on the skin
- Hives, itching rash on the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramping and/or pain in the stomach or bowels
- Anaphylactic reaction
For some people, a life-threatening severe allergic reaction known as an anaphylactic reaction may occur after consuming, touching, or even smelling sesame or sesame by-products. If this happens, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Signs and symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include:
- Swelling and tightening of the throat
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Trouble swallowing
- Dizziness or fainting
- Change of normal coloring of the skin in the mucous membranes (inner lips, gums, around the eyes, and the nail beds)
- Light skin, check for signs of a dark blue tint in the mucous membranes
- Medium skin, check for signs of a gray-green tint in the mucous membranes
- Dark skin, check for signs of a gray or white tint in the mucous membranes
If you have had an anaphylactic reaction in the past, talk with your doctor about receiving an epinephrine auto-injector (Epi Pen).
How to manage sesame allergies
The best way to manage your sesame allergy is to avoid any and all forms of sesame and sesame related products.
This includes sesame seeds, sesame oils, sesame flours, etc. See below for a full list of what to avoid.
If at some point you want to test and see if you have outgrown an allergy (yes, it is possible to outgrow allergies for some people), consult your doctor and ask about retesting. Make sure that you only test allergies under the supervision of a doctor!
If you have food allergies, it is possible that other family members also have food allergies.
Finally, it is important that you have a personalized allergy action plan for what to do in case of an allergic reaction. Talk with your doctor to plan what to do in various situations.
Diagnosing a sesame allergy
The best way to diagnose a food allergy is to visit your allergy doctor. While there, they may perform one of the following tests to determine your allergies:
Skin prick test- Placing a small sample of the suspected allergen in a purified form into the top layer of skin with a small poke (not a needle).
Blood test – drawing a small sample of blood to be sent to a lab where they will check the blood’s reactivity to various suspected allergens.
Food elimination – This is the gold standard for diagnosing a food allergy. The suspected food is removed in all forms from the diet for 2 to 3 weeks and then reintroduced under the supervision of your doctor. If a reaction occurs, it is likely to be an allergen. Please note that it is only safe to do food challenge testing under the supervision of a doctor. Do not eat food you know you are allergic to.
What to avoid with a sesame allergy
- Sesame in all forms, including:
- Sesame flour, sesame oil, sesame paste, sesame salt, sesame seed (both white and black)
- Benne, benne seed, benniseed
- Gingelly, gingelly oil
- Gomasio (sesame salt)
- Sesamum indicum
- Sim sim
- Tahini, tahina, tehina
American products will always be labeled if they contain sesame ingredients.
Use caution when ingredient labels warn that they “may contain” or “may contain traces” of sesame on their label.
If you are unsure about a product, contact the manufacturer. Even if you have used a product before, ingredients are always changing.
FASTER Act and Manufacturing
In order to comply with the new FASTER Act, companies must clean and certify that their manufacturing lines are free of sesame and any sesame by-products. However, some companies did not want to change any manufacturing practices or policies. So instead, these companies began adding small amounts of sesame flour into products that were previously sesame free.
This allowed the companies to just add sesame to the ingredient label and not change anything else.
What is unusual is that this practice of purposely adding allergic ingredients is a new response of the food manufacturing companies. Previously, they had not done this with the other top 8 allergies.
Companies must disclose on ingredient labels that they have added sesame. It is typically the last ingredient.
People who are allergic to sesame, foods that have previously been safe are now unsafe. Please read any and all food ingredient labels even on foods that had once been deemed safe to eat.
Companies that have Added Sesame
- American Baker’s Association
- Aunt Millie’s
- Ball Park Buns (Hot Dog and Hamburger)
- Bunny Breads
- Butternut Breads
- Captain John Derst’s
- Evangeline Maid
- European Bakers
- Franz Bakeries
- Jack in the Box
- Home Pride Breads
- Kroger Store Brand Products
- Mi Casa
- Mrs. Fresh Ley’s
- Nature’s Own
- Olive Garden
- Country Hearth, Lake Land, Papa Pita
- Sara Lee Products
- Sunbeam Breads
- Tasty Kake
- Target Store Brand Products
- Thomas Bagels
- Walmart Store Brand Products
- Wegman’s Store Brand Products
- Wonder Bread Products
Foods that may contain sesame
Sesame is not always present in these items, but they are more likely to be used in the ingredients. Use caution when eating these products. Always read ingredient labels and ask questions if you are unsure about an ingredient!
- Baked goods
- Bagels, bread, breadsticks, hamburger buns, sub buns, rolls, etc.
- Breads, cereals, crackers
- Bread crumbs
- Asian cuisine
- Middle Eastern cuisine
- Dressings, gravies, marinades, soups, sauces
- Dips and spreads, like hummus
- Flavored rices, noodles, risotto, shish kebabs, stews, stir fries
- Natural flavors
- Processed meats and sausages
- Protein and energy balls, bars, etc
- Seasonings, flavorings, and spice mixes
- Snack foods
- Turkish desserts
- Vegetable oil
- Vegetarian burgers
Hidden sources of sesame
You may not realize it, but many times sesame oil is used in various products and you need to carefully read ingredient labels to avoid a reaction. As always, if you are in doubt, don’t use it!
Hidden sources of sesame are:
- Pharmaceutical items
- Skin care products
- Hair oils
- Beard oils
- Leather conditioning oils
- Pet foods
Cross reaction foods to avoid
Many times, people want to know if sesame seeds are a nut or can they trigger someone with a nut allergy.
Although sesame seeds are classified as seeds and not nuts, sometimes the proteins in nuts and sesame seeds closely resemble each other.
For some people, it is recommended that children with a severe nut allergy also avoid sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and poppy seeds.
Use caution when eating:
- Other seeds and nuts
- Brazil Nuts
- Sunflower seeds
- Poppy seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Dining out with sesame allergy
Perhaps the biggest change to your life is knowing what is safe to eat when dining out. Grabbing a quick bite anywhere you like may not be possible!
The best way to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting sick at restaurants is to research ahead of time.
Many restaurants have their menus online to allow you a chance to figure out if this restaurant is a safe option. A lot of times, restaurants now have allergy menus! This lets you see the ingredients list and know before you go if a place is safe or not.
Even if a place says that it is safe, I would still always use caution when dining out. It is really difficult to ensure that a kitchen is aware not only to not use foods that can make you have a reaction, but about cross contamination on surfaces, opening new ingredient bags, or even switching gloves and knives when preparing food.
Companies that are Declared Sesame Free
These companies have come out and declared that they are not adding sesame to any of their products that did not previously contain it.
However, companies do change all the time so always please check.
- Jimmy John’s – Declared that they actually were removing sesame from their wheat breads.
- McDonald’s – Plain buns will remain sesame free and they will not add sesame to products. The sesame seed buns (Big Mac) do contain sesame seeds on top. Mc Donald’s is actively working with their suppliers to comply with the new food safety laws.
- Canyon Bakehouse – This gluten free product company doesn’t contain sesame.
Learn More About Food Allergies
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