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Food Code Adds Allergen Labeling of Unpackaged and Bulk Foods – Including Sesame

Although some state regulations for retail foods require the allergen labeling of bulk and unpackaged foods at retail, it wasn’t until the most recent update that this allergen labeling became a component of the FDA Food Code (2022). That update also added sesame as an allergen, which became the ninth national major food allergen with the January 1, 2023, effective date of the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act.

Why is the Food Code important to retailers?

FDA revises the Food Code every four years, to serve as a guidance document for the development of retail food safety rules which are set by state, local, tribal, and territorial agencies. Because it is not a federal regulation, many states have not adopted the most current update and/or have adopted modified versions of other updates. Thus, retailers need to be aware of the regulations of each jurisdiction in which they operate, including the aspects of the Food Code that have been incorporated, while understanding that these generally vary by state.

What are the significant allergen-related updates?

With prior versions of the Food Code requiring allergen labeling only for packaged foods, the 2022 update adds retail bulk foods to the requirement and includes sesame as a label-required allergen.

  • Sesame: All foods that are bulk, unpackaged, or packaged on or after January 1, 2023, that are sold within retail food establishments must list the ingredient sesame on the label as a major food allergen. Because some packaged foods can have a long shelf life, those that were in stock or on their way to the store before January 1, 2023, do not need to be removed from the marketplace or relabeled to declare sesame as an allergen.
  • Bulk and unpackaged foods: Customers must be informed in writing of any major food allergens as ingredients in unpackaged food, and any bulk food with a major food allergen that is available for consumer self-dispensing must have the allergen labeled. The nine major food allergens include milk, egg, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans, and sesame.

Are there other allergen-related updates in the new version?

Yes, additional changes were made to reflect the new requirements, including:

  • Employee training on elements associated with food allergy awareness and the topics food establishments can consider including when developing operational-specific allergen training programs for employees.
  • Revising terminology from allergen cross contamination to allergen cross contact to reflect that change in FDA terminology.

As we stated in an article shortly after the publication of the 2022 Food Code, the lack of states using updated versions of the Food Code is somewhat concerning and makes the goal of having consistent standards and policies across states that much less attainable. This can be particularly concerning with food allergens, as the lack of labeling can – and has – caused significant health risks and even death. Additionally, the lack of a specific state regulation on allergen labeling would not relieve a retailer of liability should a food allergic person be sickened or die from an undisclosed allergen. Thus, whether or not your state has adopted the 2022 Food Code, incorporating the new rules into your retail policies is a best practice for the safety of your consumers and your brand.


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