I want to talk about the importance of educating children with allergies, and their schools to know how to give those children the best quality of school life, when it comes to food safety.
I want to share how suffering from food allergies can make you feel excluded from feeling normal during lunchtimes, and any occasions where food is introduced into the curriculum.
How can schools help children feel inclusive?
There are more and more children, in fact 40% of UK children being diagnosed as having allergies, therefore many schools are far more aware of their responsibilities and have policies in place to look at the care of their pupils.
The Food Information Regulations 2014 requires all food businesses including school caterers to show the allergen ingredients’ information for the food they serve. This makes it easier for schools to identify the food that pupils with allergies can and cannot eat.
It is almost impossible for schools to guarantee a completely allergen free environment, due to the number of pupils and the different types of allergies. However, they can work to minimise risk of exposure to hazardous foods.
If children want to eat a school lunch, schools could provide online menus, including ingredients, so parents can book their meals ahead of time. All of the catering staff and supervisors should know which children have allergies and can ensure they are seated in a safe place for their lunch – but, not so far apart from the rest of the pupils as to feel side-lined.
The kitchens could have separate equipment for use of dairy and non-dairy products, to avoid cross contamination.
Under the Children and Families Act 2014, schools have a legal duty to make arrangements for pupils with medical conditions. Section 100, says schools have a duty to support pupils at their school with medical conditions. However, this only says that ‘this could include ensuring that a child with an allergy is able to eat a school lunch, ‘not this ‘should’ or ‘must’.
Sadly, my school lunchtime experiences were anything but pleasant.
There was no legal duty for schools to bother about those of us with food allergies. Nobody knew what ingredients were contained in the school dinners, therefore I took a packed lunch, and as it was also harder to buy allergen-free foods then, I generally ate the same lunch every day.
Also, I had to take great care when I was in the classroom, keeping my desk wiped, to ensure there was no cross-contamination of foods. Again, many schools now don’t allow food to be eaten in the classroom so that this isn’t a problem.
The worst-case scenario for children with allergies is to be sat alone, or possibly with one other person on the allergy table. And, of course, it’s unlikely that just because the other child is also an allergy sufferer you are going to be friends. Therefore, being made to sit away from everyone else, because you can’t eat what they are is horrible.
I couldn’t sit with my friends, because their parents may have sent them to school with peanut butter sandwiches, which would have caused me to go into anaphylactic shock, threatening my life. So, I was rarely, if ever, able to sit with my friends.
Other children often don’t understand how you can be allergic to something as simple as peanut butter, or milk – or whatever your allergic nemesis is. They think you’re making it up, or being ‘precious’, which of course, puts you in a position to be bullied, just because you are seen as different.
Again, when I was at school, often, my picture was on display (along with other pupils with allergies), in public for everyone to see, which also gave rise to taunts. Generally, these days, under the Data Protection Act, pupil’s photos and other information can only be displayed with parental consent, and even then, not on permanent open display.
The situation is getting better, but as someone with life threatening anaphylaxis, I have to make sure I am aware of everything I eat.