New Sesame Law—Are You Ready?

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New Sesame Law! New food labeling requirements for sesame, the ninth major food allergen, will take effect on January 1, 2023.

A second, lesser-discussed part of the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021 is preventing allergen cross-contamination through effective sanitation at food processing plants. The move is to prevent accidental exposure to an ingredient that can cause severe and even life-threatening reactions in some people.

At bakeries, where sesame is a popular ingredient, this is a key concern. Most bakeries are not set up for thorough allergen cleaning. Bakeries must control moisture in food production areas to limit yeast and mold growth. Cleaning for allergens becomes more difficult when water is removed.

The new law aims to protect the 3% of the population with sesame allergies, making it the ninth most common food allergen affected by food labeling laws. In 2004, companies began labeling products for the eight other major food allergens, including milk, eggs, fish, crustaceans, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. The FDA has issued guidance about the recent change regarding sesame allergies, the ninth most common food allergy, here.

Every food processing facility that uses sesame ingredients must have a plan to meet the demands of the new food allergy law.

Challenges for Bakeries

As of January 1, the new allergen law requires food manufacturers to have a plan for sesame cross-contamination to protect individuals with documented food allergies.

There are three key ways bakeries and other facilities producing snack foods for the food industry can protect against sesame ingredient cross-contamination.

  1. Dedicate a bakery to sesame or non-sesame processing to boost food safety. An allergen-specific plant or production line is ideal but not always practical.
  2. Designate lines as either sesame or non-sesame for greater food allergy safety. Bakeries would still need to manage cross-contamination between lines, but it would become less of a concern.
  3. Ensure effective sesame seed changeovers are possible during the manufacturing process.

Some bakeries now add trace amounts of natural sesame seeds to all packaged foods and baked goods, then include sesame on their ingredient labels, to skirt the new requirements. The FDA may eventually ban this practice, as the goal is to prevent accidental exposure, not to prevent access to food products for those with sesame seed allergies.

8 Ways to Get Ready for Sesame

  1. Assess risk. A risk analysis is the first step in preventing cross-contamination at commercial plants. This assessment looks for areas where sesame seeds, sesame oils, and sesame paste build-up.
  2. Improve equipment design. Plant managers can take steps to improve the design of equipment and environmental areas once areas of risk are identified. Redesigning machine components can make it easier to conduct sesame cleaning. Eliminate niche and buildup areas and areas that are challenging to access, like guide rails under conveyor belts or hollow areas on the framework. Create sloped surfaces instead of flat surfaces where sesame can collect. Fill in cracks where sesame can build up.
  3. Consider traffic patterns. Rearrange traffic patterns to minimize tracking sesame throughout the plant.
  4. Examine cleaning methods. Look at the effectiveness of current cleaning methods and tools to perform a full visual clean for the top nine allergens in identified areas. Determine the gaps between current sanitation and the new levels of sanitation required after January 1.
  5. Improve housekeeping. It is important to pay closer attention to problem areas to reduce the number of seeds in the building. Putting HEPA-filtered industrial vacuums with stainless-steel tanks and grounded lightweight attachments into production areas can improve housekeeping efforts and reduce the buildup left to clean during a changeover window. These vacuums physically remove sesame dust, which gets captured by the HEPA filter. Workers can use a vacuum staged in the area where buildup happens throughout the day.
  6. Address areas with heavier buildup. There are areas within a facility that are prone to heavier sesame buildup. Here, technicians must use chemicals, scrapers, and other tools to remove sesame residue. Adding a dry steam cleaner can help in areas with heavier build-up. The wand on this tool can clear debris quickly, and the steam will loosen up the allergen to remove it without chemicals. A dry steam cleaner and a scrub brush can clean hard-to-reach areas.
  7. Clean conveyor belts. Portable systems for conveyor belt cleaning also help reduce sesame buildup (Learn more about these systems here). Technicians simply put the cleaning head onto a conveyor belt, and the system shoots dry steam onto it. The steam cleans the belt, including cracks and hard-to-reach areas, and reduces yeast and mold on the conveyor belt. Seeds are blown off the belt and onto the floor. The systems remove sesame without removing the conveyor belt. Once installed, the portable system cleans the belt automatically.
  8. Watch for technology improvements. New systems to clear plants of sesame debris are being developed by Goodway. Its proprietary conveyor belt sesame seed extraction system is being tested in bakeries now. This completely dry system, which removes sesame seeds from conveyor belts 24/7, will be available soon.

Next Steps

Don’t forget to have a plan for addressing sesame cross-contamination in your food processing plant in the New Year. The FASTER Act made protecting people from sesame exposure the law. The monumental new food allergy bill aims to prevent severe or life-threatening reactions to the common ingredient. Contact a Goodway sanitation expert here, to discuss your specific plant needs, or learn more from Goodway’s sanitation expert, Evan Reyes, in the webinar “Prevent Allergen Cross-Contamination Through Effective Sanitation—Are you ready for sesame?”

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