Schools work to prevent allergic food reactions

GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) — An increase in the number of students with food allergies is prompting Indiana schools to change their policies on birthdays and other special occasions.

Some districts bar parents from sending in cupcakes or other treats to recognize their child’s birthday. Others are more closely scrutinizing food items for possible allergens or requiring that any goods brought in are prepackaged and contain a list of ingredients.

The moves come amid new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how schools should handle food allergy issues.

Voluntary guidelines released Wednesday by the CDC urge schools to restrict nuts, shellfish or other foods that can cause allergic reactions and to ensure that emergency allergy medicine — like EpiPens — is available.

Many districts and individual schools have policies of their own, but CDC officials say there’s a need for a more comprehensive and standardized policy.

At Isom Elementary School in Greenwood, the office staff asks where the baked goods came from, what the ingredients are and where the food is going.

If anyone in the classroom is allergic to the ingredients, the item isn’t allowed in, health aide Cathy Strange told the Daily Journal.

The school also bars latex balloons because of the number of students with latex allergies, she said.

“We’re just more conscious, and we’re more vigilant with our (students’) latex and nut allergies,” Strange said.

Webb Elementary School in Johnson County has banned homemade birthday cakes because of allergy concerns. Principal Sandra Brown said parents can bring in prepackaged food that lists the ingredients, but she prefers nonedible items such as pencils and erasers.

“We do a lot of in-depth studies to make sure that, if we have kids with allergies, they’re not going to get something that causes a problem. It’s just one of those things we need to do and have to do to keep kids safe,” Brown said.

Franklin schools take another step by having students with severe food allergies sit at separate tables during lunch. Corporation nurse Beth Arkanoff says cafeteria workers also inspect trays before students with allergies leave the lunch line to ensure they don’t have any food they shouldn’t eat.

The CDC guidelines recommend schools identify children with food allergies, implement plans to prevent exposures and manage reactions and train teachers and staff to use medicines like epinephrine injectors.

Food allergies aren’t just an issue for younger students. Universities including Purdue, IU and Ball State have made changes to help students with serious food allergies.

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