Food Allergy Q&A


fa-qa-photo1Food allergies can complicate school meal menus, but protecting the students with these allergies is of utmost importance. To assist its members, SNA offers a Food Allergy Resource Center (supported by the National Peanut Board), which provides tools and resources for K-12 foodservice professionals to manage food allergies in a school kitchen. 

One of the helpful tools allows you to submit your questions to an allergy expert. Do you have a vexing food allergy question that you need help with? Submit it now, and an expert will get back to you with the most accurate information and details. 

Recent questions include: 

Q: Have you ever had a student allergic to all things onion?

A: According to the literature, true IgE-mediated onion allergy is very rare. However, intolerances to certain types of carbohydrates found in onions and other allium plants are more common. While IgE mediated allergies can cause severe reactions, sometimes requiring rescue medication, intolerances are more likely to cause gastrointestinal symptoms and digestive upset.  

Q: One of our dietitians just asked if coconuts should be listed with tree nuts when marking allergens for food. This is new to me. It looks like the FDA considers coconut to be a fruit, so I'm not sure what the connection is.

A: Although there is certainly some valid disagreement about whether or not coconuts are actually nuts, they are required to be listed and disclosed as per the food allergy labeling ruling by the FDA. Details available by clicking here.

Q: Isa spice (i.e., mustard seed) considered an allergen?

A: Yes, mustard seed can be an allergen, as can sesame, cinnamon and other seeds and spices. More than 150 different foods have been documented to cause food allergic reactions.

Q: We have families who say that their students have a food allergy but do not provide medical documentation. Are we supposed to take the parents word that their child has a food allergy, or should we/can we request medical documentation?

A: This is quite a sticky situation. I cannot tell you what to do exactly, but I can provide you with some thoughts based on my experience and understanding. The most important thing to keep in mind, as it seems you are, is student safety. 

I would recommend that you require documentation for dietary modifications according to the USDA guidelines if you participate in the national school lunch program. As I understand it, but would recommend that you confirm, dietary modifications require documentation from a “health care provider.” This means that in the beginning, when you receive a request, you should ask for the documentation. It is wise to allow for a window of time at the beginning of school or when a new student comes in whereby you do provide a note on his or her account while parents provide the necessary documentation.

There are times when a child hasn’t seen a doctor for a long time and needs time to get the proper documentation. However, I would be sure to tell the parents that without proper documentation you are limited in how you can accommodate the child. This is usually enough to motivate parents if the child has a true food allergy.

Additional Q&As availableon SNA’s Food Allergy Resource Center. Take advantage of this valuable online resource—and ensure the successful management of food allergies in school.

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