‘That will save lives’: the move beyond school food allergy bans

‘That will save lives’: the move beyond school food allergy bans

11/14/2021 8:15:00 PM

‘That will save lives’: the move beyond school food allergy bans

For years schools have tried to protect children with allergies by relying on unenforceable bans on particular foods. Experts say a new approach is needed

Photograph: Peter Muller/Getty Images/Cultura RFExperts say blanket bans on foods in Australian schools have not served to make them entirely safe for children with allergies.Photograph: Peter Muller/Getty Images/Cultura RFSarah HenderSun 14 Nov 2021 16.30 GMT

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Last modified on Sun 14 Nov 2021 16.32 GMTAfter watching her three-year-old son suffer a severe allergic reaction to eating peanut butter, Maria Said thought of peanuts in the same way she viewed rat poison.“After experiencing that, you don’t want to see the stuff anywhere near your child,” says the now CEO of the charity Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA). “I wanted to see peanuts removed from the face of the earth.”

Read moreFor the last 25 years, schools and childcare centres have held a similar view; allergens like peanuts or eggs have been banned in entire facilities when a child attending has a known allergy. It was a policy designed to keep children safe, in response to rising rates of food allergies. Now, however, with more knowledge and experience with food allergy, views are changing. headtopics.com

Last month, the National Allergy Strategy, a partnership of patient body A&AA and the peak professional body, Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, released new best practice national guidelines for schools and childcare facilities. Instead of wholesale reliance on bans of certain foods, the new approach is allergy awareness: educating all staff on risk reduction strategies, how to recognise the symptoms of an allergic response and how to use an EpiPen or Anapen in the event of anaphylaxis.

The blanket bans on foods that many Australian children and parents have become used to, says Said, have not served to make schools and childcare centres entirely safe for children with allergies. Mistakes can and do happen. Where food allergy is concerned, says Said, nothing can be more dangerous than giving people a false sense of security.

New thinkingSaid says the proposal to end bans does not mean encouraging people to bring in nuts and other allergens to school.“Rather, we want people to consider what they are packing for their children’s lunches and for there never to be a presumption that a classroom is free of a particular food, because it’s not,” she says.

The education sector is instead being encouraged to promote allergy awareness among both staff and students and to usesuch as using non-food rewards, reminding children not to share food, alerting parents about an upcoming activity involving food and ensuring that children wash hands after that activity. headtopics.com

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New national guidelines on food allergy strategies in schools seek to address consistency in procedures.Photograph: Ellen O’Nan/APThe theory is thattraining staff to minimise exposure with such strategies means that children with allergies should be safer, with less reactions. In the event there is such a reaction, improved understanding of allergies on the part of staff (and children) means that they will be able to recognise the signs of an anaphylactic reaction and be able to respond effectively.

“It is the recognition of those signs which is so crucial,” says associate professor Kirsten Perrett of the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.Wendy Freeman is a parent of three boys, two of whom suffer from multiple severe food allergies. When her younger son James was six he suffered an anaphylactic reaction accidentally sipping his brother’s milk which he’d assumed was soy milk. First, he came out in hives all over his mouth, then he started wheezing. Freeman administered him with his EpiPen telling her distressed son he would soon feel better. He didn’t. James needed more adrenaline than she could give him. It was only when the mobile intensive care ambulance arrived to administer more, that James’ condition began to improve. For Freeman, it was a wake-up call that, despite her efforts, even in her own household she could not keep her sons from the foods that could trigger them. It meant, she says,

that allergy awareness would need to be a priority wherever her sons went.Sign up to receive an email with the top stories from Guardian Australia every morningIn the school and childcare environments, Freeman found that how her child’s allergies were managed depended on the staff member. Some knew what to do but others didn’t. A ban on foods, she says, “doesn’t work as you can never be sure that one hasn’t snuck in. Grandma might have made the sandwich, unaware of that rule.” Consistency is what Freeman needed to feel reassured, especially when her children were young. Consistency in procedures is what the new national guidelines seek to address.

Read more: The Guardian »

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