My three – almost four – year old started school this September. Son-S is allergic to dairy, eggs, bananas and tree nuts. The school takes his allergies very seriously; at the beginning of the school year we sat down to work out a plan for Son-S. Despite the fact that I made clear that I did not expect the school to ban all of Son-S’s allergens in the classroom, the school had decided to do so. In addition to his allergens there are several other ones in the class. Parents have been asked not to send any foods that contain the following: dairy, eggs, bananas, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame, flaxseed, kiwi, chicken and bacon.
Part of me wants to run up to the school staff and give everyone a big squeezy hug for taking these allergies so seriously. It really is a crapshoot with schools it seems; some schools are very lax about allergies; sometimes they just don’t seem to get it. So, on the one hand I’m very grateful. On the other hand, I’m not sure this is the way to go. Here’s why I think food bans aren’t necessarily in the everyone’s best interests.
Bans can be Very Limiting
Take for example, my son’s class; the following foods have been banned: dairy, eggs, bananas, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame, flaxseed, kiwi, chicken and bacon. That’s quite a list, isn’t it? It doesn’t leave much except fruits and vegetables and plain bread or crackers. Now I should point out, that this is just a 2 ½ hour program, so we’re just talking about a morning snack here but still, kids can be picky eaters so some families might find this tricky.
Food Bans are Difficult to Enforce
Food Bans are not an easy thing. How does one enforce a food ban? Will someone be checking kids’ snacks? How will anyone know if crackers contain dairy or eggs? How will anyone know if there are ground sesame seeds or flaxseed in bread? Reading labels and avoiding allergens is a challenge even for seasoned allergy parents – I know we’ve made mistakes before. I don’t know if it’s reasonable to expect all parents to be able to do this and there is no real way to enforce it. A reliable food ban is virtually impossible.
They Can Create a False Sense of Security
Food bans can lead to a false sense of security. Since all of the allergens are banned, people let their guards down; they think that they don’t have to worry about food allergies anymore. Wrong. As a parent of an anaphylactic kid, what I think is most important for people to know is how to recognize and treat an anaphylaxis emergency. I think these lose a sense of urgency when allergic foods are banned.
No Anaphylaxis/Allergy Organization Thinks Food Bans are a Good idea
Try to find one Ananphylaxis/Allergy Organization that supports food bans – you won’t be able to (and let me know if you do). I’ve never seen or heard of any organization that suggests or supports food bans. The Anaphylaxis Campaign sums it up nicely:
“Some schools choose to enforce ‘nut bans’, where it is forbidden for any pupil to bring the problem food to school. However, without wishing to undermine the good intentions of any school taking this approach, The Anaphylaxis Campaign believes there are several pitfalls in this approach. It would be impossible to provide an absolute nut-free guarantee so the danger is that allergic children may be led into a false sense of security. There is a strong case for arguing that food-allergic children will gain a better awareness of their allergies, and learn avoidance strategies, if they move in an environment where allergens may turn up unexpectedly.”
See what other organizations have to say:
- Anaphylaxis Canada
- Allergy/Asthma Information Association
- The Ausralasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
- Allergy Safe Communities
- Allergy New Zealand
When Son-S was at Nursery School, they had the same approach – they banned all the allergens. There were at least a few parents who did not like this. I overheard once, and heard ‘through the grapevine’ about others who couldn’t wait for Son-S to ‘graduate’ from nursery school so that food could go back to “the way it was”. It is a really crappy feeling knowing that people can’t wait until your kid is gone so that they don’t have to deal with their allergies anymore.
Recognizing and Treating Anaphylaxis is Key
While prevention and avoidance strategies are very important, being able to recognize and treat an anaphylactic reaction are essential. Anaphylaxis is treatable and deaths are preventable. Nobody can guarantee an “allergen-free” environment therefore we must work to educate our communities so that in the event of an emergency action can be taken and lives can be saved.