News Local/State

Illinois Requires Food Manufacturers To Label Sesame Allergen


Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The FDA keeps a list of major food allergens known as the “big eight,” which include milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. Federal law requires food manufacturers to indicate if any of the allergens on that list are present in their products.

One long-standing exception has been sesame. It’s now the 9th most common allergen in the United States, and an estimated 0.2% of children and adults are allergic. 

Illinois just took a big step towards protecting that 0.2%. On July 26, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed HB 2123, which mandates that any packaged foods indicate the presence of sesame on their labels. 

State Rep. Jonathan Carroll (D-Northbrook) sponsored the legislation. His daughter is allergic to sesame, and he said a miscommunication at a restaurant made him realize more transparency was needed.

“We asked specifically if there was sesame in there and they said no,” Carroll said. “And then on the bun was sesame seeds.”

Similar situations have had much worse outcomes. In 2016, a teenager with a sesame allergy died in the UK after eating a Pret a Manger sandwich that contained sesame but had no allergen information on the packaging.

Now, Illinois joins Canada, the European Union, Australia and Israel in requiring labeling for sesame. But the impact of the new law could stretch beyond Illinois’ borders, because manufacturers produce food for multi-state or national markets.

“That means Illinois is going to make them label [sesame] for the whole country,” said Bruce Chassy, professor emeritus of food science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Carroll said he wants Illinois’ action to spark a national trend.

“If they see us do it, the hope is that everyone does it,” he said. “I hope that the FDA and other states will follow suit."

The FDA may be on its way to implementing national guidelines for labeling products with sesame. Last October, the agency announced it would begin the process of deciding whether to add sesame to its list of major allergens.