One child's healthy choice may be another child's health risk.
Managing food allergies.
Childhood obesity, nutrition and helping educate children to make healthy choices are top of mind in many schools around the country. Managing food allergies presents another caveat in providing healthy and safe foods for a growing number of children. What might be considered a "nutritious" snack for one child may be potentially dangerous to another.
Food allergies are on the rise. The majority of these allergies are triggered by what is known as the eight major food allergens, peanuts, eggs, milk, shellfish, wheat, tree nuts, soy and fish. Of these, peanuts cause the majority of severe and potentially fatal reactions. Symptoms of an allergic reaction can involve the digestive, skin, and/or respiratory systems. When the symptoms are extreme which is often the case with a nut allergy, the body may go into anaphylactic shock, an allergic reaction in which the release of histamine causes swelling, difficulty in breathing, heart failure, circulatory collapse, and sometimes death.
What can child care providers and schools do to help provide the safest environment possible? Education and avoidance are vital to a successful management program. It may sound simple. Keep a child away from the foods they are allergic to. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy. Becoming aware of cross contamination, understanding the importance of label reading, the ability to identify an allergic reaction, and having an emergency response plan, are critical when managing food allergies.
Keeping foods safe from cross-contamination is crucial when serving an allergic child. Cross contamination occurs when a product that is usually considered "safe" comes in contact with an allergen. This can happen through shared equipment or shared utensils making a "safe" food unsafe. An example might be the preparation of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. The same knife used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is then used to cut an apple, or the same jelly which might have peanut butter in it is used to make a sandwich for a child who is allergic to peanuts. This creates cross-contamination and presents a danger for a child with a peanut allergy. Another example might be a parent who is not aware of the dangers of cross-contamination. They make peanut butter cookies for another class, and then use the same cookie sheet to prepare sugar cookies. Without realizing, the sugar cookies are now unsafe for a child with a peanut allergy.
Reading labels is another critical measure to safety. Every label must be read every time a product is purchased, or served to a child with food allergies. Labels can change, due to products being manufactured in different facilities, or a change in ingredients. One manufacturing facility may be safe from allergens. The same product made in a different facility may be processed on equipment that also makes products that contain the allergen, therefore making it unsafe. Manufacturers may also change ingredients. For example, an item that may not have included egg as an ingredient may include egg on your next purchase.
When caring for a child with food allergies, make sure you have a documented emergency medical plan. All those working with the child must be familiar with this plan. A child with food allergies may have prescribed epinephrine. Make sure everyone caring for the child is trained and comfortable with the administration of all medications.
Most young children want to help keep their friends safe. When educated on food allergies and the safety principles, it is heartwarming to see them ask questions about ingredients, remember not to share their food, and make sure to wash their hands. Education around food allergies helps to foster an environment of understanding and compassion rather than singling a child out.
To facilitate this education there is a new resource available "Beyond a Peanut" - Allergy Flashcards. These flashcards incorporate comprehensive safety information, and delivers it in an easy to learn format. The flashcards introduce cross contamination, the importance of label reading and always carrying emergency medication. "Beyond A Peanut" - Allergy Flashcards aid in the education of students, faculty, staff and families. The education provided by these flashcards generates a greater understanding of the safety challenges around avoidance, and why vigilance is necessary in providing a safe environment for children with food allergies.
"Beyond A Peanut" - Allergy Flashcards are specific to nut allergies; however, they have proven to raise awareness and understanding of all food allergies by introducing the same common safety principals. There are 36 color coded flashcards on a metal ring, making them easy to hang in the office or the classroom. You can learn more about them at www.beyondapeanut.com. For more information of food allergies contact the Food Allergy Initiative at www.foodallergyinitiative.org.
Dina Clifford . November 2007 . Mind Flight LLC