The Anaphylaxis Campaign’s views on the proposed changes to School Foods Standards, to be made statutory from January 2015

The Anaphylaxis Campaign’s views on the proposed changes to School Foods Standards, to be made statutory from January 2015

  • 20 July 2015
  • News

The Anaphylaxis Campaign recently responded to the Department of Education consultation document on the revised ‘Standard for Food in Schools’.  The recommendations within this document have been put forward by the School Food Plan, who are working to improve the provision of food in our state schools.

The Anaphylaxis Campaign has always supported the work of the School Food Plan, however we noted the following proposed changes to the School Foods Standards which we believe will pose a risk to the food allergic child:

  • No snacks may be provided, except for nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruit with no added salt, sugar or fat
  • The only drinks that may be provided are those in group E, except that whole milk may be provided for pupils up to the end of the school year in which they attain the age of five.

Requirements for school lunches provided at maintained nursery schools and nursery units within primary schools

Each day food from each of the categories (i), (ii), (iii) and (iv) must be provided as part of the school lunch

(iv) Milk and dairy Milk, cheese, yoghurt (including frozen yoghurt and drinking yoghurt),  fromage frais, milkshakes and custard

An extract of our response to these points to the Department of Education is as follows;

The Anaphylaxis Campaign advises the Department for Education to remove nuts and seeds from the list of recommended foods. The following points are paramount:

1. The safety of allergic children is the only consideration.

2. The only line of defence for these children is avoidance.

3. When avoidance fails, the result is a medical emergency requiring an adrenaline injection and an urgent trip to hospital. This is extremely traumatic for all concerned.

There is a wide variety of alternative healthy foods that   might be promoted. These include fresh fruit, dried fruit, banana chips, vegetables (such as carrot sticks), plain popcorn, pretzels, plain biscuits and certain cereal bars.

In respect of allergens other than peanuts and tree nuts, the Anaphylaxis Campaign advises that the final recommendations should include a clear statement on food allergies that expresses the need for food suppliers and schools to undertake a thorough risk assessment so that all food allergic children are protected.

Our most important point is: The safety of allergic children is the only consideration. We would ask the Department for Education to take this into account and consequently to avoid a situation where allergic children are put at risk.

The growth in food allergy

Peanut allergy has tripled in the past decade and now affects one in 70 children in the UK (1) and is the commonest food allergy to cause fatal or life-threatening reactions. Tree nuts are also frequently implicated. When taking peanuts and tree nuts together, a House of Commons report stated that the prevalence among children is one in 50 – a total of 250,000 children (2).

The prevalence of other food allergies among children is uncertain. Foods known to cause severe reactions in childhood include egg, milk, fish, sesame seeds and kiwi fruit. Some children have only mild or moderate reactions to these foods, but a significant number – perhaps as many as a third – experience severe, life-threatening symptoms.

Thankfully, deaths from food allergy are rare among children. In no small part, this is probably due to a growing awareness of management strategies that can be implemented to protect these children.

Allergy in schools

The front line of defence for an allergic child is strict avoidance of the food or substance that causes the problem. A serious allergic reaction requires an immediate injection of adrenaline and an emergency trip to hospital. This is a very traumatic event for the whole school.

Given the high prevalence of peanut/nut allergy, it is likely that every school has at least one pupil who is affected (many schools will have considerably more than one) and it is unsurprising that there are often tensions in schools.  Parents may make unrealistic demands, schools may be driven by fear to respond unhelpfully, and the result in all cases is that the child suffers. Food allergy presents a significant challenge to schools.

Fortunately, this situation is improving. The Anaphylaxis Campaign’s AllergyWise online training for Health Care Professionals (HCPs) is targeted mainly at School Nurses.  For every one of the HCP AllergyWise courses completed, the training is cascaded to approximately 45 people, meaning that over 25,000 people have benefited directly from the course since it first launched in 2010. In 2013 over 700 HCPs took our AllergyWise course

Banning allergens

The Anaphylaxis Campaign has never promoted the banning of peanuts, nuts or other allergens, from schools, pointing out that there is a drawback to this:

  • First, no school could guarantee a truly peanut/nut-free environment. Allergic children might be led into a false sense of security.
  • Second, if you ban peanuts, what do you say to the parent who wants to exclude milk, egg, sesame, fish or fresh fruit?
  • Third, demands for nut-free zones may engender confrontation between parents. In such an atmosphere, the risks may actually increase.

However, there is a difference between advising against banning nuts and actively recommending them. There is absolutely no doubt that any increase in peanuts and nuts in schools will increase the dangers for allergic children

We will keep you updated on the progress of this consultation.

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