What is a food allergy?
A food allergy occurs when the body has a specific immune response to foods. Some reactions can be severe and life-threatening, especially for children. Eight food groups account for 90% of serious allergic reactions in the US such as milk, fish, eggs, shellfish, wheat, peanuts, soy, and peanuts. In a typical classroom of 25 students, at least one student is likely to be affected by food allergies.
How can we manage food allergies in schools?
As a responsibility of a parent, guardian or school official, there are a plethora of ways to manage food allergies in schools. One of the first things to do is to make sure school officials and nurses are aware of the allergies a child possesses and provide necessary medication. Next, administrators need to ensure appropriate storage and administration of epinephrine. Most schools contain a stock of epinephrine auto-injectors, which was enforced by the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, signed by President Obama in 2013. Another way to manage food allergies in schools is by designating allergy-safe seating areas during lunch to avoid reactions. Teachers should not allow food sharing for children who they know have allergies and encourage hand washing after handling food. For example, washing surfaces on which food has been eaten with wipes or spray cleaners are effective at removing peanut protein from surfaces. Another method is keeping “safe snacks” in a classroom for unplanned events is useful just in case the child’s lunch accidentally becomes contaminated. In environments where children are unable to bring lunch from home every day, posting lunch menus beforehand allows parents to identify unsafe meal offerings and plan accordingly for their child’s meals. Training food service personnel on allergy issues such as avoiding cross-contact with food preparation is a suggested requirement. All in all, the idea of promoting food allergy safety in schools requires collaborative efforts of parents, students, and staff.
By Vasundhara Kulkarni