How School Districts Oversee Food Allergies

2018-11-14

SNA's Journal of Child Nutrition & Management

Food allergies in the school nutrition environment are an incredibly important food safety topic, as it is estimated they affect approximately one in every 25 school-aged children. Many school districts have plans in place to help manage food allergies and keep reactions to a minimum. But what accommodations are in place, and how schools prepare for and react to situations differ by district.

In a study released by the Journal of Child Nutrition & Management, baseline data of food allergy management in schools was gathered and reviewed. The study, “Management of Food Allergies in Schools,” asked a national sample of over 5,500 nutrition directors to complete a questionnaire. From the initial sample, there were 480 useable responses. The study sought to determine the prevalence of accommodations for food allergies in schools, ascertain relative frequency of allergic reactions in school districts, and identify current management strategies used.

The data revealed schools do provide meals to students with food allergies. The most common types of food allergies included milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. Over 15% of participating districts indicated they had a specific food ban on campus, such as no peanuts, while others instead provided a safe zone to eat for students with food allergies (39%).

About 79% of respondents reported that they maintained appropriate documentation for students with food allergies, and over half indicated school nurses were primarily responsible for maintaining a student’s allergy documentation (about 58%). Only 30% of polled directors reported using a registered dietitian or a registered dietitian nutritionist to assist with meal accommodations as the most common practice was keeping ingredient records of foods served in schools to help track allergens.

“Operationally, regardless of the source of food items, program directors and leaders should continue to encourage school nutrition professionals to read labels and communicate with suppliers or manufacturers directly with questions about ingredient substitutions and changes, as well as include such expectations in purchasing and receiving standard operating procedures,” the review concluded.

By creating baseline information, the data can be used in future studies to help understand best practice in meeting this challenge facing school nutrition programs. Additional assessments can inform district administrators on how schools have customized food allergy management plans. Although the response rate was low, it still provides an interesting cross-section into how school districts manage food allergies.

The full review can be found in the Fall 2018 edition of the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management. (And do you need some understanding in how to read a research article? This handy tutorial breaks down a research article to help in understanding the key points.)

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