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Food Allergy Resources

Recommended School Training: How to CARE for Kids with Food Allergies

May 2013

Food Allergy training guide for schools


Teachers and staff who supervise food-allergic students should receive training on the following:

Comprehending food allergy basics.

The following six statements provide a simple yet comprehensive introduction to the basic medical facts:
  • A food allergy is an overreaction of the immune system that can affect any system of the body, including the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and skin systems.
  • Ingestion of even a minute amount of the allergen can trigger this overreaction and cause a variety of symptoms ranging from mild nausea or itching to anaphylaxis (a systemic allergic reaction that can kill within minutes).
  • There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the allergenic food is the only way to prevent a potentially life-threatening reaction.
  • An allergic reaction can occur up to two hours (and sometimes, though rarely, up to four hours) after ingestion.
  • The severity and progression of an allergic reaction is unpredictable: a seemingly mild reaction can turn fatal within minutes.
  • Anaphylactic reactions are treated by prompt administration of epinephrine. Time is of the essence and may mean the difference between life and death. Transport to an emergency room must follow. Repeat administration of epinephrine may be required.

Avoiding the Allergen.

Because strict avoidance of the allergen is the only way to prevent reactions, it is crucial that teachers and staff be given practical information on how to make the classroom/lunchroom/playground safe for food-allergic students. Topics to cover include:
  • How to read food ingredient labels. (Demonstrations with actual labels are especially helpful.)
  • How to check the ingredients in art supplies and in other products that may contain allergens, such as soaps or hand lotions.
  • How to prevent cross-contamination by using proper cleaning methods for tables and other surfaces.
  • The importance of teaching students to wash hands before and after contact with food.

Recognizing a Reaction.

Early recognition of symptoms saves lives. Every allergic reaction is different. It is critical for school personnel to know that a child experiencing anaphylaxis may show no skin symptoms whatsoever. The symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction include:

  • Mouth - Itching, tingling, or swelling of lips, tongue, mouth
  • Skin - Hives, itchy rash, swelling of the face or extremities
  • Gut - Nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Throat - Hacking cough, tightening of throat, hoarseness
  • Lung - Shortness of breath, repetitive cough, wheezing
  • Heart - Thready pulse, low blood pressure, fainting, pale, blueness

Enacting Emergency Action Plan!

Every school should have its own emergency protocols. Teachers and staff must be taught exactly what to do in the event of an anaphylaxis emergency, particularly what their school’s protocol is for:
  • Administering the epinephrine auto-injector (Epipen™ or Twinject™).
  • Calling 911.

School Training:
  • Comprehending food allergy basics
  • Avoiding the Allergen
  • Recognizing a Reaction
  • Enacting Emergency Action Plan!
Download the Safe@Schools Food Allergy School Training Guide (requires Adobe Reader Adobe Reader).

Author Maria Laura Acebal, J.D., is the Founder & Director of "safe@school partners", which merged with the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (now Food Allergy Research and Education.) Reprinted with permission.

Updated August 2008, May 2013.

Approved by KFA Medical Advisory Team June 2007.

Kids With Food Allergies is a nonprofit charity. More than 80% of KFA's financial support comes from donors like you. If KFA has helped you in some way, please make a donation to support our work.

Page last updated 7/29/2012

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