Reporters from BuzzFeed News visited a Chick-fil-A restaurant in New York City and found a letter posted near the food pickup area that noted the change in English and Spanish.
“Food safety and quality are our top priorities. We take great care in adhering to stringent food safety procedures,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. “Customers with a sesame allergy may prefer to order a gluten-free bun, which does not contain a sesame ingredient. Bread products on the breakfast menu, including the tortilla, English muffin, mini yeast rolls, and biscuit, are also free of sesame ingredients.”
The FDA did not respond to a BuzzFeed News question about whether it will take action against companies that opt to add sesame to their food rather than do what they can to avoid cross-contact between allergens. However, an FDA spokesperson told us that the agency has “made clear that labeling is not to be used instead of current good manufacturing practices with regard to allergens.”
“There are FDA regulations that require adequate control of allergen cross-contact,” the spokesperson said. “In other words, manufacturers cannot just place an advisory statement on a product without first taking measures to prevent allergen cross-contact to the best degree possible.”
Some of those measures include separating allergens from non-allergens in facilities, scheduling products with allergens at the end of daily production cycles, and sanitizing and cleaning equipment after processing products containing allergens.
Lauren, 35, who told BuzzFeed News she preferred to keep her last name private, has a son who has a sesame allergy and experiences anaphylactic responses to it, as well as peanuts and tree nuts. She told us that her family has eaten Chick-fil-A at least once a week for the last three years during movie nights and that she has had the food catered to her son’s school parties. Her son’s last anaphylactic reaction about three years ago has left her with PTSD and anxiety.
Lauren said to BuzzFeed News that the general manager at her local Chick-fil-A told her that the restaurant cannot guarantee any product is safe from cross-contact, although the company’s website says it prepares foods “following procedures to prevent allergen cross-contact, but products containing wheat, egg, soy, and milk are all made in our kitchens.”
When Lauren from BuzzFeed News inquired about “clean gloves,” she was told that the manager’s staff “would not be doing this,” Lauren wrote in an email. “Fun fact: I’ve written ‘clean gloves, food allergies’ on every single order for over three years and was told by staff that this was followed.” (Requesting that restaurant workers wear clean gloves when handling food is a common approach for people wanting to avoid an allergen.)
“I am incredibly heartbroken for so many people right now. This, for a lot of us, was the only restaurant we felt comfortable eating out at,” Lauren said. “This is laziness and a complete CYA move on Chick-fil-A’s part and I am so disappointed.”
A spokesperson for Wendy’s said on Dec. 16 that the company updated its nutrition and allergen information “within the past week” to include sesame in advance of the FASTER Act taking effect, and that the change applies to all restaurant locations in the US.
“We take food safety and allergen matters very seriously,” the company said in a statement. “On our current national menu in the U.S., our Homestyle French Toast Sticks and premium and value buns contain sesame flour as an ingredient. Our menu evolves frequently, and our most up to date ingredient and allergen information can be found on Wendys.com and within the Wendy’s mobile app.”
Its website says that many products, such as the Jr. Cheeseburger, Baconatorand Crispy Chicken Sandwichcontain sesame or sesame flour and list sesame as an allergen. Other products, like chicken nuggetshave a warning in the ingredients list that says “cooked in the same oil as menu items that contain wheat, milk, egg, soy, sesame, and fish.”
Sources told BuzzFeed News that they have never seen sesame associated with any of the Wendy’s products until now, checking the company’s website only after private discussions with other “allergy people” revealed the changes.
Further, on each product page, Wendy’s mentions: “We provide known instances of allergens; however, cross-contact is possible due to common handling and preparation areas in our restaurants. We are unable to guarantee that any menu item can be completely free of allergens. Customers with allergies and sensitivities should exercise judgment when ordering.”
Adrienne Cardon, 39, and mother to an 8-year-old with more than a dozen food allergies, including sesame, that can cause anaphylaxis, wonders how differently everything would have played out if companies announced they were adding peanuts to their products. She said Wendy’s is the only fast-food restaurant where her son can eat.
“This is the opposite of corporate responsibility. This is the opposite of inclusiveness. This is corporate laziness and malfeasance,” Cardon said. “Can not a multibillion-dollar corporation bake their own buns in a safe environment, or find a partner who can?”
Cardon admits that Wendy’s is a convenience for her family, rather than a need, but she worries about families that will be disproportionately affected by this move, including those who depend on fast food for their children’s nutritional needs.
“It’s 2022! We can make meat-free ‘meat,’ eggless ‘omelets,’ gluten-free baguettes, and dairy-free ice cream, but these fast-food titans can’t find a baker who can bake a sesame-free bun?”
Laura Smathers, 40, has two daughters with life-threatening food allergies, one of them being sesame. She said finding safe places to eat out “has been a monumental task over the last 13 years.” She depends heavily on Chick-fil-A, especially while traveling, so much so that she’s shown up at countless restaurants and even weddings with bags of Chick-fil-A for her kids to avoid allergic reactions.
“Needless to say, no one in our community could have ever imagined this new law to cause a devastating blow instead of the reassurance and clarity we were seeking,” Smathers said. “This response to the labeling law is inexcusable. It is heartbreaking that nothing had to change with these recipes, yet these companies are electing to endanger the millions of Americans with sesame allergies and make their establishments and products something we have to avoid to keep our loved ones safe.
“It has been a devastating loss, to say the least,” she said.