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Food allergies, particularly among children, are a growing concern in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4 to 6 percent of kids in the country live with this type of allergy. And these health complications aren't just inconvenient - they can be deadly.
Food allergies occur when the body produces an immune reaction in response to a certain food. These responses can range from mild discomfort, such as an itchy tongue or mouth, to severe reactions that can result in death.
Because food allergies can't be cured, preventing exposure is critical to ensure the safety of these kids. If you work in early childhood education, protecting your students from food allergy risks should be a priority.
1. Gather as much information as possible
Generally, the parent of a child with allergies will volunteer the information right away. However, you can't assume that you will always be given these facts.
Depending on your program or school district, guardians are likely required to report any allergies during registration. Read these forms carefully and always double-check with the parents or guardians at the beginning of the year before any food is eaten in the classroom.
2. Check the labels - and check again
Once you have the information that you need to prevent an allergy emergency, you need to be diligent about reading the list of ingredients in all the food in your classroom, especially if you know that you have a student with a severe allergy. This includes snacks brought in by other children, such as cupcakes for a birthday, that will be shared.
According to Food Allergy Research & Education, the eight major groups that are responsible for most food allergies are the following:
With some extreme allergies, you may need to ask the other parents not to send in certain foods, such as peanut butter sandwiches. Some children can have an allergic reaction just from inhaling food particles. Though you may get some pushback from those who don't understand the severity of the risk, ensuring the safety of your classroom should be your priority.
3. Prepare for accidents
Despite the best preventive measures, accidents still happen, so it's important to prepare for the unexpected. If you have a student with a food allergy, keep an epinephrine injection in your classroom or the nurse's office, depending on the rules at your school - and you should understand how to use it in the event of an emergency.
Talk to your supervisor to learn more about any existing policies enforced by your school regarding food allergies to make sure that you and your classroom are in compliance.
To learn more about creating a safe classroom for children, consider enrolling in early childhood education courses from ProSolutions Training.