Why I Don’t Believe in Food Bans

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:

Backlash

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.

12 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Believe in Food Bans

  1. Chris

    You make some really good points here, Amanda. N has had an anaphylactic child in his class for the last 4 years. I am very ashamed to admit that I have wished once or twice that they were not in the same class. But it has more to do with inconsistencies for me. Like, every other class in the school (except ours) could have birthday treats, Halloween treats, Christmas treats, etc. (I think this is changing for us this year, hopefully).

    I agree that bans give a false sense of security, and that they are near impossible to enforce. Working as a lunchtime supervisor in my kids school, I can’t imagine having to go through everyone’s lunch to check. It would take me the entire 20 minutes that they have to eat!!

    Are you going to talk to your school’s staff about your feelings on bans??

  2. Patience

    MY only problem with including foods that a child was allergic to would be if there was an incident where the child was threatened with the food like has happened to my dd. Allergic foods can become a weapon in the hands of bullies.
    I don’t think there would be any way to enforce the banning of such a large number of foods in the larger school setting. My kid’s elementary school seats them all in the gym at lunch. No way you’d have the time to check every one there.

  3. Scott

    For confirmed, potentially life-threatening anaphylactic allergies, as diagnosed by an allergist, I personally would have no problem with a food ban, as long as it’s still reasonably possible to assemble a balanced meal for my child.

    For any allergies or sensitivities diagnosed by naturopaths – absolutely not. A naturopath’s definition of allergy is not science-based, and the testing methods they use are not validated.

    I question how one class could contain students with true, life-threatening allergies to dairy, eggs, bananas, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame, flaxseed, kiwi, chicken and bacon.

    1. FamilyNature

      Scott, I can tell you that of my son’s allergies, dairy, bananas and tree nuts are potentially life-threatening and have been confirmed by an allergist. Egg, also confirmed by an allergist, is most likely only life-threatening in raw form, and even in this case, less likely to be so in our case. In fact, Son-S can tolerate egg when it is baked in goods, and in small amounts.

      I pointed this out to the school and and asked them to consider allowing eggs since they are one of the more difficult ingredients to replace when baking. The school insisted on banning eggs to avoid confusion.

      As for the other allergies, I personally know one of the other families well and know that their child has potentially life-threatening allergies, confirmed by an allergist to: soy, sesame, peanuts, tree nuts, flaxseed, bananas and kiwi.

      I talked to the parent of the child who is allergic to chicken and bacon and those two allergies are not life threatening for their child. The school knows this. They still decided to ban ALL allergens.

      So, the confirmed, potentially life-threatening allergens are: dairy, eggs, bananas, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, sesame, flaxseed and kiwi. The list is still quite limiting. It essentially eliminates all proteins (except for beans and legumes — let’s face it, these are not popular among children!) and really limits grains. With all the hype about ‘whole grain’ breads, crackers and cereals, you’d be hard pressed to find much of a selection that doesn’t have sesame seed and/or flaxseeds.

      I do understand the point you are making though. Recently I sat through an allergy talk in which the speaker told us how she ‘cured’ her children’s allergies with the use of homeopathics and alternative medicine. AND that she tested the success of these treatments by going home and giving her son a glass of milk. I just about fell out of my chair.

      Personally, I thought the woman was lucky not to have sent her child into anaphylactic shock (because that is what would likely happen if my son drank a glass of milk). If there is reason to believe that a person has grown out of an allergy, it needs to be tested in a safe setting. One of our kids had this done; Son-F grew out of a peanut allergy and this was confirmed by a food challenge done at The Hospital for Sick Children.

      I agree completely that allergies should be confirmed by an allergist. When Son-S attended nursery school there was a child there whose parents suspected she was allergic to flaxseed. The nursery school, in their hysteria, banned flaxseed. I encouraged the mum to have the allergy tested because a) if the child reacted to something — what the parent thought was flaxseed, and then skin testing was negative for flaxseed, it is important to try to figure out what the reaction was to; b) if it was negative, no need for the hysterical food ban; c) having serious food allergies, carrying an epi-pen, being excluded from food celebrations, and all the other baggage that comes along with food allergies can have an impact on a child (or anyone, for that matter). Why in the world subject a child to this because of a ‘suspected’ allergy? Why not have it confirmed or ruled out? As it turns out, the child was NOT allergic to flaxseed after all.

      Gee, this has just about turned into a blog post itself! All of this to say that I agree, allergies should be confirmed by an allergist and if a school insists on banning allergies it should only ban those that are life threatening.

  4. Jane Anne

    This post was very interesting to read. I enjoyed thinking about this- so thanks for posting it. My child has a peanut allergy and I am fortunate to only have to deal with one life threatening allergy. That said, peanut butter is served as a lunch option daily at my son’s school. We have put safety measures in place at the school. I worry and I pray a lot. I also work to constantly communicate with his teacher and staff. I would love it if there weren’t any peanuts or peanut butter products allowed. However, I don’t think that represents the real world. I hope that I am teaching my son how to survive in the “real world” where peanuts are constantly present.

  5. Melissa H

    Yes But at the same time Banning foods that have even a mild reaction is in the best interest of the school and that child.
    If for some reason a child who really doesn’t show much reaction to say eggs then one day has a bad reaction, the parents of that child would be upset and the school would be liable.
    I had my son in nursery school last year, with many different allergies. For the most part it wasn’t an issue. The school itself did not ban all things related to one child but the head of the food committee did. As to be safe on that childs behave. Also at that level its hard to teach and have children understand the banning of things. So to cut things out completely is easier. My son who is now in JK… the school only has a ban on peanuts. Which is the case for most public schools in toronto. We send in there own snack so as the parent, you would know what is safe.

    This banning might just be an issues because of the style and size of school.

    I am lucky to say my children have no allergy that is that harmful to them. And hope i never have to deal with the hysteria about them. But i do know many people who have too and so i understand.
    Its better to be safe then sorry on all sides.

  6. Elizabeth Goldenberg

    I appreciate the well reasoned way you set out your position. I respectfully disagree, and I am in favor of banning peanuts and tree nuts. This is due to the fact that 90% of deaths due to food allergy are from these allergens, and they’re the most reactive allergens in invisible trace amounts.

    I started the petition to support the U.S. Department of Transportation’s proposed ban of peanuts on airlines, which is now at 2, 045 signatures (link: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/banning_peanuts_from_airlines)
    I filmed this video setting out reasons to consider supporting the ban: http://www.change.org/petitions/view/banning_peanuts_from_airlines and this video showing images of food allergy and anaphylaxis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyNbGkAVnzI

    I feel much better knowing that peanuts and tree nuts are not around my son at school, especially since he broke out in hives all over his chest last week from peanuts eaten nearby. We all need to advocate for our children, and truth be told, we won’t always agree on the best way to do this. As food allergy parents striving to keep our children safe each day, I honor our similarities and our differing opinions.

  7. Lissa Critz

    Great post. It’s difficult because the symptoms and severity (not to mention the validity, which you’ve also addressed) of food allergies can and do vary so widely from person to person – obviously even we in the food allergic community can’t agree on what’s best because what’s best for one may not be for another. I think it’s clear that schools are even more confused when confronted with this seeming ambiguity. The only safe approach is to customize the safety measures for each food allergic child, and frankly many schools have neither the time nor the inclination to put that much effort into it for each child. I think this type of “blanket banning” is the result of that laziness (for lack of a better term) coupled with fear of liability. If they insist on using “one size fits all” accommodations, then they will have to make those as strict as possible to include even the most severely allergic children.

  8. Colleen B

    While I do agree on some of your points (ie. bans being impossible to enforce, can create a false sense of security, backlash and the importance of recognition and treatment of anaphylaxis), I personally am glad of my son’s school being peanut free.
    I never take it for granted that he is safe. He has one Epi-pen in the class room, another in the office. His hands, face and table are all washed before eating. However as a group of 4-5 year olds I know how unpredictable they can be. My son knows to only eat his food (no tradesies), even though he’s 4 and doesn’t entirely understand how a cookie can make him sick.
    I personally don’t mind if someone has something that “may contain” around my son, It’s things like peanut butter I’m concerned about. I know how sticky and smeary peanut butter can be. You do your best to wash them up, change their clothes and 2 hours later you find a glob behind their ear or inside their elbow. If there wasn’t a ban at least 25% of the kids would have peanut butter for their snack, and there is no way one kindergarten teacher can clean up all those children or all those tables.
    Though I am concerned about backlash, I feel that with a board (or school) wide ban, it’s harder to blame just one child. Also when the school sends home the notices they don’t name any names, they respect our children’s medical privacy.
    I do, however, respect the difference of our situation. My son allergic to peanuts while yours is dairy, eggs, bananas and tree nuts. That’s hard enough to accommodate without all the other allergens added for the other children. I don’t know what I would do if my son’s school banned a list like that but as an allergy parent, I would do my best to figure it out without hard feelings.

    1. Colleen B

      P.S. Maybe a good idea for a school fundraiser would be an allergy friendly cookbook and recurring bakesales. You could provide the parents that make an effort the ideas and inspiration to do so, and the ones who don’t can buy safe snacks to send instead. It may cut back on the backlash if the other parents appreciate your help.

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