Well, here’s a nasty irony for a blog called “Safe and Scrumptious from Scratch”: turns out all the hours of from-scratch baking I’ve been putting in to avoid buying sesame-contaminated bread for my daughter over the past few months… have been with sesame-contaminated flour.
This flour discovery may even (I hope!) explain all the little mystery reactions she’s been having for the past few months after dinner: tiny mysterious clusters of two or three hives that suddenly appear around her mouth, not serious enough to warrant an immediate EpiPen, but serious enough for me to stare at her for four hours afterward to make sure the reaction doesn’t progress.
And definitely worrisome enough for me to check and triplecheck everything she has eaten in a frustrating hunt for the cause. (Has she developed a new allergy? Or was it Mr. Cinnamon, in the kitchen, with a trace of mustard? Ms. Unrefined Organic Canola Oil, in the waffle iron, with a trace of sesame or walnut?)
The sesame-contaminated flour might even explain the recent worsening of the eczema around her eyes. Or not. It is an awfully cold and dry winter.
This is all part of the, er, JOY, of living with almost-but-not-quite-top-8 food allergies like sesame and mustard in the United States. Sesame and mustard are the ninth and tenth most common food allergies, but aren’t currently covered under the U.S. Food Allergy Labeling and Customer Protection Act (FALCPA)—though happily, sesame- and mustard-allergic Canadians have it much better. In fact, sesame and mustard don’t even have to be listed on the label at ALL in the U.S., and can just be part of some vague “spices” or “natural flavorings” (never mind included in those totally inconsistent and completely voluntary “May Contains” statements, which are not required or governed by law).
AND many companies don’t treat sesame or mustard as allergens at all or have much awareness of them or even think of sesame as including, say, sesame oil, or seeds, and tahini, and benne and… you get the idea.
So folks who need to strictly avoid sesame and mustard are told they not only need to read all labels each and every time, but ALSO call or contact companies to ensure that EVERY single food item they purchase is reasonably safe for them. Oh yeah—and since the products can change at any time, you need to do this, oh, every few months. In all that spare time you have, of course.
The stakes are high in the sesame and mustard game, but so is the effort… and best of all, there’s no guarantee you can trust the company’s response to be well-informed or correct!
So calling companies about whether there is sesame in their products is a good way to eliminate items that DEFINITELY contain sesame or mustard, but not a perfect way to ensure an item is totally safe. Got that?
So, when I started my recent spurt of bread baking, I checked in again with King Arthur like the good little Food Allergy Mom I am to be sure it was still safe for the kiddo, listing all of my daughter’s allergens (sesame first) and asking if their flours would be free of cross-contamination, etc. Here’s what they said (bolding is mine):
Thank you for your email. Our Signature flours (All Purpose, Bread, Whole Wheat and White Whole Wheat, plus their Organic versions) are produced in wheat only mills that are peanut and tree nut free.
All specialty flours (French style, Italian style etc.) plus our mixes and ingredients are mixed and packaged here in our Vermont facility do share equipment and cannot be considered tree nut free.
Our new Gluten Free line of mixes and ingredients are milled in a separate facility that is free of the top 8 allergens: wheat, nuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, eggs, and dairy. There is also no sunflower, sesame or coconut in the gluten-free facility. That said, our mixes may require eggs and/or dairy; please take a look at their packaging (available for viewing on product information pages) to see what’s required to bake them. Unfortunately, we do not test for the presence of mustard. I’m sorry.
I hope this is helpful to you. Please let us know if we can be of further assistance.
Customer Care Baker
King Arthur Flour
The key phrase that I honed in on here (wrongly, as it turned out) was “wheat-only facility.” In my head, I’m thinking “gosh, King Arthur is milling SO MUCH FLOUR that literally, there is NOTHING else in that factory but WHEAT, so it’s a WHEAT-ONLY FACILITY.” But I think in her head, this rep was thinking “the only TOP 8 allergen present in that facility is wheat.” (My lesson: now I’ve got to write or call every company TWICE! Let me put that on my calendar…)
The worst part is, I was so sure this flour was officially safe, I told EVERYONE who bakes ANYTHING for my daughter to go out of their way to buy it (her preschool bulk-ordered it for making vegan nut-free pancakes, my dad hunted it down at an out-of-the-way grocery store when we came to visit).
So when another mom in the awesome sesame allergy Facebook group alerted me yesterday that she had seen a very different response on sesame from King Arthur, I wrote back for clarification:
Hi [name removed],I just want to make sure I have all this information correct. I wasn’t concerned about peanuts in your flour (not one of my daughter’s allergies)—but about tree nuts AND sesame, especially. Is there any likelihood of the signature flours containing any traces of sesame, sesame seeds, sesame flour, tahini, benne, etc? That is my daughter’s worst allergen.Again, my daughter is allergic to sesame, nuts, eggs, dairy/milk and mustard. (Not peanuts).
This time, I got a bit of an apology and a clarification. OOPS!
Thank you for contacting us here at King Arthur Flour.
I’m sorry to say that while [name removed] was correct to mention that our flours are free of tree nuts, there is a chance of them coming in contact with sesame. As such, they are not free of this ingredient.
Please let us know if we can be of further assistance or if you have additional questions. If you need immediate assistance, feel free to contact us directly at 800-827-6836.
Thank you again and have a great day!
Sigh. So, who knows? Maybe this has caused my daughter’s scattered recent allergic reactions, maybe not. (But ONE reaction for sure was after eating four delicious sourdough waffles—at the time, I guessed it was the Spectrum Canola Oil cooking spray I had just bought, which is now sitting in allergy purgatory on a high kitchen shelf pending further investigation).
And lucky for me, Gold Medal flour is made by General Mills, who actually has an official policy on labeling for sesame. And there’s also Hodgson Mill, who gave me a much more clear and customized answer on sesame (emphasis mine) and all my daughter’s other allergens when I asked about flour, cornmeal and pasta:
Thank you for contacting Hodgson Mill. We are a tree nut/peanut/sesame seed free facility. Within the next year, we are coming out with two new products (coconut flour, almond flour/meal) that will be produced in a peanut/tree nut environment in a completely separate facility. When these products are brought into our warehouse, they will already be palletized, boxed, and wrapped in plastic. Therefore, there will be no chance of peanuts/tree nut contamination in our facility. However, you would not want to purchase these two products.If you are wanting to purchase pasta, we do have three pasta/couscous products that contain dairy, egg, and/ or cheese and are as follows: WW Mac & Cheese, WW Noodles, and WW Couscous Parmesan Therefore, there would be a chance of cross-contamination of dairy in our whole wheat pasta/couscous line. We do have a GF pasta section that does not contain any dairy, and is ran on dedicated equipment.
Our flours/corn meals do not contain any dairy…
Goodbye King Arthur! Hello, Gold Medal and Hodgson Mill!
Anyone want 20 lbs of possibly-allergy-contaminated flour? I guess we won’t be making our usual Sunday brunch waffles with that sourdough starter tomorrow morning…
P.S. By the way, I don’t think King Arthur is evil here—if anything, this kind of sesame allergy confusion is typical. The whole situation is miserable, and yes, they should have been much more careful in their choice of wording, but I probably should have read their email more suspiciously, too.
This post contains affiliate links that may result in commissions for this blog, which will NOT be spent on King Arthur Flour. Sigh.