Allergy Advice

by Becky
(Mocksville, NC)

Becky Asks

I have had several children over the years with peanut, tree nut, egg, milk allergies and many other dietary restrictions.

I would love some advice on how to help remind all teachers that may interact with my children during lunch and snack of my students with allergies.

I thought of seating them somewhere specific at the lunch table and color coding a place mat with the restriction.

We have a paper with the students' pictures and restrictions on our sign in/ out board that stays with us throughout the day, but I don't feel that it is enough.

Thank you for any help or suggestions!

Miss Cheryl says:

Hi Becky,

Your focus and concern for the safety of children in your classroom with allergies is beyond commendable. Your concerns are warranted and I am so happy you asked this question!

Some Food Allergy Statistics

The number of food allergies has increased significantly in the United States. As a matter of fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that the increase of food allergyies in children went up 50% between the years of 1997-2011.

Food allergies affect 1 in every 13 children (under 18 years of age) in the U.S. That’s approximately two in every classroom. Food Allergy Research Education

Steps For Reducing Risk of Food Allergen Exposure

There are many steps that can and SHOULD be taken to reduce the risk of exposure to food allergens in school settings.

You, Becky, have already taken many that are recommended by trusted authorities in the field such as FARE and CDC.

In The Lunch Room

1. Designating an assigned table is a very good idea. Three things to consider when doing this:

(a) Having a designated table that is allergy-friendly is a wonderful idea! This table should be open to any child during lunch (not just children with allergies), so long as they are eating foods free of the food allergens in your program.

I'm not sure from your post if you have a lunch room or if you eat in the same classroom you hold class in.

If your children eat in the same classroom, you will need to have a food allergen free classroom for any allergies which are air-borne. From there, you could follow the above advice, having children with allergens at a designated table or designated area of your lunch table.

(b) I understand the color coding idea and find it quite creative as the color is what will tell staff what the specific food allergen is without publicly posting it on the mat (which would violate HIPPA and breach the confidentiality of that child).

However, it may indirectly label the child by having him/her stand out. "Why do you have that mat?" And with preschool children, "Hey, I want a mat!!".

If you go with the colored mats, I would suggest having general colors that are not allergen related for the children without allergies.

All children will then have mats, and the children with food allergies will have specific colors.

(c) You will also need to consider the sanitation of these mats. Consider:

* Who will wash them?

* Where will they be stored?

* Where will they be washed?

You would not want them washed in the same sink or with the same cloths/sponges that potential food allergen items are washed in or with.

2. Hand-washing.

All staff and children should wash their hands before and after snacks and meals to prevent cross contamination.

In The Classroom

There are also many considerations in the classroom with regard to food allergens.

1. Consider the assignment of cubbies. Ensure that children with food allergens have cubbies separate (and are not sharing) cubbies with other children. This avoids cross-contamination of allergens from snacks and lunches stored in cubbies.

2. Allergens in activities. Read labels of items you use in your classroom for activities.

For example--Do not use Fruit Loops cereal in a classroom if you have a child with a tree nut allergy. They contain coconut and, yes, you guessed it, coconut is a tree nut!

Acorns, often used in Science or Discover Interest Centers are actually tree nuts.

Bird seed (which is popular to use in preschool classroom sand tables and for making bird feeders) may contain crushed peanut shells.

Staff Knowledge

What a wonderful system you have in place with the clipboard! Fantastic! That is exactly what you should have in place for the staff in your classroom!

However, as you stated, it is not enough for other staff from outside of your classroom. They do not "think" allergens throughout the day as you and your co-workers do.

It is important---no, I would say it is a necessity that ALL staff in your center, not just in your classroom, receive a detailed and complete training on food allergens.

Although most CPR training courses now cover allergies and the use of EPI pens, it is specifically geared to how to identify an allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock symptoms. The training does not discuss, in detail, prevention.

I suggest asking your director to coordinate this very important training for all staff and volunteers.

The information they learn about what not to do and what to do, could save a child's life.

Training might be provided by an allergist, a nurse or other specialist who deals with and has knowledge in food allergens and challenges specific to children and schools.


Here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:

My Article on Preschool Allergies

Keeping Children With Food Allergies Safe At School by FARE

Reducing the Risk of Exposure to Food Allergens by FARE

Thank you, Becky, for being so on top of this serious issue in your classroom and for seeking information to ensure the health and safety of the children in your care.

I hope this has been helpful,
Do you have some suggestions and/or ideas to use in the classroom with regard to food allergens? If so, please share it below!

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