Food Allergies and Schools

Does your school have a food allergy management plan? Is the staff equipped and trained, ready to respond to a food allergy emergency? Perhaps you are simply searching for more information on food allergy management, and looking for resources—if so, keep reading, because today’s topic is all about food allergies in school.

Managing food allergies in school food settings is a challenging task in an already-challenging job. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) guidelines for schools include a list of recommendations for schools to follow, listed under ‘School’s Responsibility.’ Click through to view the complete list; the first five are listed below:

  • Be knowledgeable about and follow applicable federal laws including ADA, IDEA, Section 504, and FERPA and any state laws or district policies that apply.
  • Review the health records submitted by parents and physicians.
  • Include food-allergic students in school activities. Students should not be excluded from school activities solely based on their food allergy.
  • Identify a core team to establish a prevention plan. [School nurse, teacher, principal, school food service, nutrition manager/director, counselor, parent(s), student(s).]
  • Train staff members who interact with the student to recognize and understand food allergies and their symptoms, and ensure that they know what to do in an emergency.

The Big 8

When looking for more information about food allergens you have probably come across the phrase “The Big 8.” The FDA plays a role in protecting Americans against health risks posed by food allergens via the 2004 Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). This law requires food labels to clearly identify food source names of all ingredients that are (or contain any protein derived from) the eight most common food allergens (The Big 8): milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shell fish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans. Prior to the 2004 act, food labels required ingredients but not necessarily the food source; identifying food sources helps consumers avoid offending foods and the health complications that go along with food allergies.

Anaphylaxis, or “Anaphylactic Shock”

What happens to someone who ingests a food allergen? Symptoms range from mild, to severe, to life-threatening, and should be taken seriously; even if symptoms are initially mild, they can worsen quickly. Symptoms appear within minutes, and then up to two hours after the offending food is consumed; allergic reactions can include:

  • Hives
  • Flushed skin or rash
  • Tingling, itching sensation in mouth
  • Face, tongue, or lip swelling
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Coughing, wheezing
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness
  • Swelling of throat and vocal chords
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

In the U.S. it is estimated that anaphylaxis to food results in 30,000 emergency room visits, 2,000 hospitalizations, and 150 deaths every year.[1]

Education and Resources

Whether you are a parent, teacher, administrator, or school foodservice professional, you can find excellent resources and support online. The School Nutrition Foundation recently held a special Webinar Wednesday focused on the issue of food allergies in school. You can find the archived allergy webinar, “Teamwork is the Key to Successful Food Allergy Management in Schools” online. The webinar covers basic facts about food allergies, a discussion of regulations and best practices related to food allergy management in schools; further, there is a discussion surrounding how child nutrition (CN) professionals can work with administrators, teachers, and nurses to create comprehensive food allergy management plans. You will also learn about how to identify key allergy risk areas in your schools and kitchens, and how to prepare CN staff to handle a food allergy emergency. The webinar is presented in partnership with the National Peanut Board. Bookmark their website, and find them on Facebook and Twitter, to learn more about peanuts and peanut allergies.

Additional Resources

Find an overview of all of the Big 8 allergens at, and a comprehensive guide on allergies—food and more—at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America website.

The National Dairy Council has a page on their website dedicated to information on lactose intolerance. You will find links to supporting science articles and research, presentations, handouts, and more. There is also supporting background information on lactose intolerance at the U.S. National Library of Medicine. If you are looking for information on seafood & fish allergies, visit the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) website. AAFA provides a brief overview of shellfish and fish allergies, as well as information on the rest of the big 8, labeling, traveling, treatment, etc.

The School Nutrition Foundation has provided a list of Food Allergy Resources on their website.

Upcoming Allergy Events

School Nutrition Foundation’s upcoming Peer2Peer Connect Q&A Session on food allergies will be held on Tuesday, March 6, 2012. Register online; join us at 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday 3/6.

[1] Food & Drug Administration, “Food Allergies: What You Need to Know.” 24 February 2012. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 27 February 2012. <>

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