Food Allergies in the Classroom

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Welcome back to school!  With new and returning students, it’s important to consider if there any children who have food allergies.

About 300,000 Canadian children have a food allergy. An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts to a food protein (an allergen). The most common food allergens are: peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, seafood (fish and shellfish), wheat, eggs, milk, mustard and sulphites.

Symptoms of allergic reactions can be different for everyone and may occur within minutes or hours. The most common symptoms of allergies are:

  • Flushed or pale face, hives, rash, itchy skin
  • Swelling of the eyes, face, lips, throat, or tongue
  • Coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting
  • Feeling anxious, weak, dizzy, or faint

Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to food can be life threatening, and can occur quickly and without warning. These can be treated with an epinephrine auto injector (an EpiPen®).

A student’s auto-injector should be readily available at all times. It should not be kept in an office or locker. The only way to prevent allergic reactions is to avoid contact with the foods or ingredients that cause them.

Many school districts have adopted guidelines to help keep students with food allergies safe. District guidelines may vary, but often include the following:

  1. No sharing of food or treats
  2. Washing hands with soap and water before and after eating. Alcohol rubs do not remove allergens well.
  3. Restricting identified allergens from the classroom/school.
  4. No homemade treats for celebrations or special events. Even if parents are aware of the allergens to avoid, cross contamination is always possible. There are many ways to celebrate that do not involve food.

Students, parents, teachers and other staff all have an important role to play in keeping students safe, healthy and happy.

To learn more about allergies, visit: http://foodallergycanada.ca/.

This site includes:

  • Resources for educators such as free classroom posters; http://foodallergycanada.ca/resources/resources-for-educators/.
  • A link to the free online course “Anaphylaxis in Schools: What Educators Need to Know”; http://www.allergyaware.ca/courses/
  • Food Allergy Canada’s Elementary School Program, which helps educators raise awareness about food allergies in their classrooms. The program provides helpful resources, activities, worksheets and lesson plans. The goal of the curriculum is to help students from kindergarten to grade eight understand food allergies and how they can help support their peers with allergies.

Submitted By: Pat MacIntosh, Registered Dietitian

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