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.
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