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Peanut Bans: What is the Best Way to Deal with Food Allergies in Schools?

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

The National Peanut Board indicates that there are better ways to deal with food allergies than creating banned-food zones.

It often seems that peanut allergies are rampant throughout the nation nowadays. Schools will go to extremes to ensure that no child can ever come in contact with a peanut on school property, even taking steps to create peanut-free cafeterias or ban peanut products completely from school property.

But, is this the right step to take?

No, according to National Peanut Board Senior Manager of Marketing and Communications Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RD, LD. Basically, there is no way to guarantee kids with allergies will be safe simply by banning peanuts from the premises, creating a false sense of security. Additionally, putting the emphasis on enforcement rather than education in this issue eliminates an essential role of the school community when it comes to children with food allergies: preparing them to stay safe in a world that is not allergen free.

The Threat of Anaphylaxis

It is important to understand that anaphylaxis, Collins explains, does not occur as the result of simply touching a food, including peanuts. Many people are fearful that just being near a peanut can be life-threatening for children with allergies, but Collins indicates that this is not the case.

“Anaphylaxis is the result of ingesting the protein through the mouth or mucous membranes. Just being in the presence of an allergen does not cause life-threatening reactions and research has shown that, for peanut in particular, skin contact may cause a local reaction (redness, itching or swelling), but does not lead to a systemic response. Moreover, a study of casual contact in schools showed that there is very little risk to children with peanut allergy from simply being in a school where peanuts are eaten.”

Additionally, there are other allergens that can be potentially life-threatening for children with food allergies, but these are rarely addressed. Tree nuts, wheat, beef, even milk can cause anaphylaxis in those with allergies, but they are safely included in school menus. The same can be true of peanuts, Collins suggests. “It is not possible for schools to ban all foods that may cause anaphylaxis, nor should they do so.” After all, as Collins points out, only 1.2% of children have a peanut allergy, which means that more than 98% of kids can enjoy them with no problem; certainly there is a better way to address the problem of food allergies without banning foods completely?

According to Collins, there is.

Developing Comprehensive Food Allergy Management Plans

Collins works with schools nationwide to help them develop comprehensive food allergy management plans that will help keep children with food allergies safe, while allowing those without food allergies to enjoy nutritious foods, including peanuts. This, she indicates, is a better idea than trying to ban foods completely from schools.

"The experts from the Food Allergy Research & Education organization, formerly Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, agree that district and school-wide bans are not the most effective way to keep kids with food allergies safe, since you can never guarantee that an allergen is not present in the school," Collins says, also adding, "The National Peanut Board promotes the same recommendations as the Food Allergy Research & Education group that advocates for training of students and staff in allergen and reaction recognition, increased and appropriate communication, and plans for managing accidental ingestions."

For more information on developing a food allergy management program, a good place to start, Collins suggests, is with the School Nutrition Association website. The National Peanut Board has worked with the School Nutrition Association, she explains, “to develop training for school foodservice staff that is available for free from their website.”

More information is available on the National Peanut Board website, as well.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Comments

Submitted by Dana (not verified) on
A "Plan" is a comprehensive look at cause, effect and management. The article above addresses 1/2 of a plan, as does Ms. Collins, member of the Peanut Board. This article sites 1/2 the facts and doesn't give readers a plan at all. Although she addresses training to recognize anaphylaxis in schools (many schools still do not want the expense or time taken away to train more than a few staff members), she does not recognize that the oils transferred by peanut butter products can easily spread from kids hands and their tables onto books, athletic equipment and desktops. A simple touch to the eyes or mouth with a trace amount of peanut (and tree nut) oils can trigger a reaction. We've experienced this twice and no, the teacher in the classroom was not prepared. A better plan would be to create a peanut butter section so that it is contained. Students having peanut butter for lunch should be given wipes and their tables are cleaned from oils. In a cafeteria of 250 or more x's 2 or 3 lunch periods (such as ours), peanut butter is spread throughout making it a minefield for allergic children to have a safe school experience. Ms. Collins, put the other 1/2 of your plan in place called Prevention.

Thank you for your input, Dana, and your suggestions. However, I would like to point out that this article does not suggest that it contains a comprehensive plan to deal with peanut allergies; it simply addresses the fact that there are comprehensive plans available, and gives those interested a place to start looking into the issue; at no point does it suggest that it contains a full, comprehensive plan for addressing food allergies. Thank you again for your comment and your suggestions.

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