In the 10 years between 1997 and 2007, the prevalence of food allergies in children increased by 50%, and this statistic keeps climbing. It can become an overwhelming task for schools to manage student health and allergies. The following 5 fast facts can be the key to improving allergy action awareness for yourself, your colleagues, and your students.
1. Wash Your Hands!
While hand sanitizers are great for killing bacteria if you don’t have access to soap and water, they do not eliminate the allergen residue left behind. Soap, water, and friction are necessary to remove these allergens (Peggy Eller and Julie Skolmowski). Make sure you always wash your hands after handling common allergen foods to avoid cross-contamination.
2. Be Prepared!
Studies show 1 in 13 students have food allergies. This equates to an average of two kids per classroom (FARE) (Peggy Eller and Julie Skolmowski). Do you know which students have food allergies at your school? For the students that do, do you have an Allergy Action Plan on file for them? You should! One easy way to ensure continuity and communication is to meet with all teachers and cafeteria workers every year. At this meeting, you can communicate which students have severe allergies and walk through the emergency action plan in the event an accidental exposure occurs. Utilizing an electronic Student Health Record (SHR) solution is another great way to improve emergency preparedness.
Most often, allergic reactions occur on the skin, in the respiratory passage, or in the gastrointestinal tract. Minor reactions can include hives, skin rash, diarrhea, stomach cramps, runny nose, and sneezing. More severe reactions can result in anaphylaxis, unconsciousness, hypoglycemia, panting and wheezing (Consumer Health Digest).
3. Know Common Allergens!
Surprisingly, there are only 8 foods responsible for 90% of food allergies (Consumer Health Digest): eggs, milk, fish, wheat, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and soy.
4. Check Labels... Often!
Label literacy is crucial to preventing accidental exposure to allergens in the classroom. Food labels indicate allergens in the food and list all of the ingredients. Even if you’ve used the food in the cafeteria or classroom before, ingredients tend to change. Always be sure to check the label!
Common allergens will be listed in one of three ways (Food Allergy Research & Education):
- In the ingredients list, using the allergen’s common name.
- Following the name of an ingredient on the ingredients list (usually in BOLD), if it is a less common form of the allergen.
- Next to a “CONTAINS” or “MAY CONTAIN” statement, typically following the ingredient list.
5. It’s Not a Joke!
Unfortunately, about 1/3 of kids with food allergies have reported they have been bullied because of their food allergy (FARE). Bullying is a cause for concern, no matter the circumstances; however, food allergies are not a joke. To educate students on the seriousness of food allergies and begin to normalize the conversation, FARE put together a great food allergy anti-bullying campaign that you can share with everyone at your school.
Here are some tips from FARE on bullying intervention (FARE):
- Encourage open communication on what bullying is and what it is not.
- Provide tools students, teachers, and parents can use to stop the bullying.
- Ensure bullying is reported to a trusted adult.
For more information on food allergies and how they may impact your school, check out FARE – Food Allergy Research and Education. You can also find information at magnushealth.com/ on how having an SMR improves emergency preparedness and makes allergy awareness communication efficient.
- Consumer Health Digest. Food Allergy Action Month: Urges You to Raise Awareness About Food Allergies. n.d. Website. 7 May 2018. <https://www.consumerhealthdigest.com/health-awareness/food-allergy-action-month.html>.
- FARE. Bullying Prevention. n.d. Website. 7 May 2018. <https://www.foodallergy.org/life-food-allergies/living-well-everyday/bullying-prevention>.
- Food Allergy Research & Education. "Facts about Food Allergy Bullying." n.d. Food Allergy Research & Education. PDF. 7 May 2018. <https://www.foodallergy.org/sites/default/files/2017-09/bullying-tips.pdf>.
- Food Allergy Action Month. May 2018. <https://www.consumerhealthdigest.com/health-awareness/food-allergy-action-month.html>.
- Food Allergy Research & Education. How to Read Food Labels. n.d. Website. 7 May 2018. <https://www.foodallergy.org/life-with-food-allergies/living-well-everyday/how-to-read-food-labels>.
- Peggy Eller, RD, CD and MPH, RD, SNS Julie Skolmowski. "Food Allergies: Think Smarter, Not Harder." n.d. Managing Food Allergies in Schools. PDF. 7 May 2018. <https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/cn/foodallergies_thinksmarter.pdf>.