Original story and reporting by Samantha Chatman for ABC 7 Chicago on November 24th. Link to original story and video segment may be found HERE.
Sesame allergies are becoming increasingly common and serious.
Earlier this year, Illinois passed a law requiring all food manufacturers to declare foods that contain sesame on their labels. But the ABC7 I-Team has learned that certain companies may not be following that law, raising concerns for those with sesame allergies.
Alexandra Bradley, 14, faces a number of food restrictions. The Ravenswood teen is allergic to dairy, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and sesame, experiencing a number of reactions over the years.
Alexandra’s mother learned her daughter had severe food allergies when she was just 4 months old.
“So we started realizing when we were grocery shopping it was a whole new ballgame,” Amanda Bradley said.
She said sesame has been by far the most difficult allergen to manage.
A recent study found that more than 1.5 million Americans have a sesame allergy.
Sesame falls just under the top eight allergens in the U.S., but despite its rapid growth, food manufacturers weren’t required to label sesame on their products.
“The products will say ‘may contain milk,’ ‘may contain peanuts,’ but it does not say ‘may contain sesame,'” said Amanda Bradley.
The Bradleys said it’s been an uphill battle, forcing them to avoid many foods out of fear they may contain sesame.
“But then I suddenly found out that Illinois had just passed this law, so I’m like, ‘Great!'” she said.
Earlier this year, the Illinois Legislature unanimously passed a bill that would require all food manufacturers shipping products to Illinois to label all packaged food that contains sesame. But months after the bill passed, the Bradleys said they haven’t noticed a change in labeling.
In fact, they said certain items they know contain sesame still don’t have any warning labels about the allergen, which means some food companies may not be following state law.
“Now that this law has passed, I’m afraid people will just assume that this law is being followed,” Amanda Bradley said. “We need to know that we can go in the grocery store and trust those products.”
Illinois State Rep. Jonathan Carroll co-sponsored the sesame labeling bill.
His daughter, who’s also allergic to sesame, inspired him to take action.
He admits enforcement of the law won’t be an overnight task, but said the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t made it any easier.
“I’ll be frank, I think the FDA has dropped the ball on this one,” Carroll said.
The FDA told the ABC7 I-Team that they have the authority to require labeling of allergens, such as sesame.
“When it comes to labeling sesame as an allergen, enforcement discretion would fall to FDA for listing allergens on food product labels,” an FDA spokesperson said.
While the FDA acknowledges the growing concern among Americans when it comes to sesame allergies, labeling sesame on foods is still not a federal requirement.
It’s why Carroll said his law is so important.
“We can’t have another food allergy attack. We can’t have someone else get sick while the FDA is having hearings and looking for public comment,” he said. “This is a safety crisis. We have people that, if they ingest the wrong foods, will die.”
Carroll said he’s fully prepared to work with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to see that food companies are following Illinois law, regardless of the FDA’s stance.
“It’s really important to keep kids safe so no one gets hurt,” Alexandra Bradley said.
The FDA is currently reviewing public comment to better understand sesame allergies and the people who struggle with it.
But Rep. Carroll said that’s not enough. He hopes Illinois’ sesame law will help move the needle with the FDA to ensure adults and children across the country are safe.