Allergens in School - How Far Do You Go?

Updated on September 18, 2013
A.L. asks from Seattle, WA
19 answers

My DD just started K and packs her lunch on most days. Our school does NOT have a (pea)nut-free policy, but as parents we were informed that there is one or more children with (pea)nut allergies in her classroom and asked omit (pea)nut products to reduce the risk of exposure for those children. Again, not a no nuts rule, but more of a "please assist us with this".
This is for individual lunches, not things that kids bring to share for a birthday for example, which must be packaged and labeled...
The Kindergartners eat lunch at their desks, and there is a no sharing/trading rule in place.

So now I wonder what the expectations really are for DD's lunches.

Of course I would not want to endanger a child in her class and I have no problem leaving out (pea)nutbutter and such things out of her lunchbag.
But am I expected to read the ingredients for everything I pack? For example I unwittingly packed sandwiches for her for an entire week before I noticed that the sliced bread had hazelnuts in it. What about products that are manufactured with (pea)nuts or cross-contamination at home? Nobody in my family is allergic and we all enjoy different nuts, peanuts and the likes... I assume that the school is not expecting that we switch to a nut-free household to keep the allergic kids safe.
I never noticed how many things we eat on a regular basis have some sort of nuts or another in it.

So for those who have no allergies, how far do you go to try to accommodate the "nut-free"?

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So What Happened?

I would like to thank everyone for their insightful comments. The school does not identify the kid in question or specify their allergies (other than peanuts and tree nuts) - I believe they are vague for privacy reasons.
DD has mentioned that he sits at the teacher's desk for lunch, the school is over enrolled by hundreds of students, so to deal with the lack of space the Kinders eat in the classroom...
I think I will just keep on doing what we have been doing so far and maybe pay a little extra attention to the ingredients on products intended for DDs lunch.

Featured Answers


answers from Grand Forks on

We do not pack foods that have nuts in the ingredients. We will pack foods that have been in contact with nuts. Anything prepared in my kitchen may have been in contact with nuts.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

If this were sent home to me my son would no longer have blatant peanut items. My son LOVES a good peanut butter and jelly, his school has no policy - in fact no listed allergens - so no policy, if this were to change I would stop the PB&J. My son is also taught to NOT share food as it may accidentally make someone sick.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Boston on

If the problem were so severe that a child was high anaphylactic when exposed to tree nuts or peanuts (which are totally different foods/triggers), they would have told you. So I would say, no, you don't have to scrutinize every label and of course you don't need to go nut-free in your home. Tree nuts and peanuts are great sources of protein and other nutritive items, so it doesn't make sense to get rid of them.

The problem schools face is the sharing of foods (which is pretty much banned in all schools now) and one child having food on his hands and then touching another child who is highly allergic. So that's why they've asked you to assist in reducing the number of reactions. If you can avoid the hazelnut bread, great. If you miss an ingredient that is in small supply in a product, I don't think you need to stress about it. They would have told you if this were an issue. Just instruct your child not to share.

I'm sure you're aware that so many kids have other allergies - dairy, soy, egg, and more. A friend of mine had a child with 60 food allergies - you can't imagine what they went through to find things he could eat. There's no way the school could have required all the other families to never use or send in all of those foods - things like deli meat, cantaloupe, pineapple and on and on... They were able to eliminate all of his food allergies within 7 months by finding a simple way to give him what he needed to actually process those food items without having a reaction - which of course is the way nature intended it. This huge rise in food allergies is just out of control - and an allergy is a "false" auto-immune response, with the body mistaking a harmless ingredient as a harmful "invader" and causing a reaction. But this is not a normal thing, obviously, and it is much more of a reflection of what we've done to our food supply and our environment, and not the fault of the foods themselves. The scientific work being done in epigenetics shows us that so many of our diseases and allergies can be repaired/reversed.

The other place I would be very careful is in the selection of Halloween candy to give out because you don't know who's coming to your door. But that's not a hardship for you since it's just a once-a-year occasion.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

I would not expect other people to alter their own or their children's diets to accomdate my child's allergies. That's not their problem.
The real world isn't going to do that, and she would have to learn and learn young how to manage her own health issues.
If she were allergic to the point of anaphylaxis, I would send an epipen with er, and make sure that she knew how to use it before I ever enrolled her in school. Until such time as she was old enough to do that, she would not be out and about without my supervision. If that meant she didn't get to go to preschool or even kindergarten, so be it.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

I will do what I need to to help a child who has a severe nut allergy. We're in the area where the little red headed girl died recently at a camp after accidentally eating a Rice Krispy treat with peanut butter icing. I think it's important for everyone to cooperate when there's a child with a serious allergy. When in doubt, just ask the teacher because he/she will have the info. on the child's situation or ask the parents directly.

That said, I also HATE blanket no-nut polices when there isn't even a child with a nut allergy in the class, school or camp. It's a very lazy way of handling things, like the administrators just don't want to have to think about it so "Meh, let's just have it that way all the time." It puts an extra burden on parents when there doesn't need to be one.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

To comply with federal law regarding disability discrimination, the school is not permitted to created a segregated learning environment. Severe food allergy does qualify as a disability. So, they really have a right to keep the allergens (nuts) out of the classroom. They don't have to do this if food is being eaten in the cafeteria (well, technically they could, but it's not really practical).

But to answer your question, to keep the nut allergic student safe, all you really have to do is avoid bringing in food that obviously contains nuts in some way. Don't worry about the cross-contamination issues, unless that food is being served to the allergic child, or course.

I'm the mom of a nut allergic child, and yes, it is amazing how many foods either contain some kind of nut or are in danger of being cross-contaminated with nut protein. It's surprisingly limiting.

But it is very much appreciated when others consider the safety of my child when planning parties or serving food. It's really no fun to be excluded because of a medical issue.

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answers from San Francisco on

I don't think that you need to eliminate things that are made on shared equipment and/or processed in the same facility as a nut product. The likelihood of something like that affecting a nut-allergic child is very slim, assuming that child doesn't actually touch or ingest it. However, an actual nut product, such as loose nuts or nut butters, can be dangerous to a child with a highly severe allergy. I probably would not bring these items to school and would use sunflower seed butter instead. The bread with the hazelnuts in it is a potential problem.

Basically, when I hear that a school is nut-free, I take that to mean actual nut products. I do not think that parents need to scrutinize labels to make sure that their crackers or potato chips were made in a nut free facility.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I don't. I understand this is a bad attitude but my kids live on peanut butter. I think it's sad that they are expected to give up something that they love so another child can sit in their classroom.

I won't go to the extremes that you are going to. Why don't your kids go to the lunchroom with the rest of the kids? Why don't they get a hot lunch? To me it's odd they have to take their lunch.

Although, if I were going to take cupcakes or something for the kids birthdays or something I would not pick peanut butter frosting or something like that. I'd simply get the cupcakes from Walmart and take them.

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answers from Chicago on

Okay, I think it depends on how severe the allergy is. If the child only has a reaction if that said child eats said food, then I would not worry too much. If said child is highly allergic, I would think that they would change the rule to a no nut rule.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Since there is not a no nut rule in the classroom, I wouldn't worry about it. What I would do is make sure my child knows to wash their hands thoroughly before and AFTER lunch - especially if they had peanut butter (which can spread on other things).

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

We don't have food allergies in my house either but I habitually read labels just for my own information. From my perspective I don't see that as unreasonable or a chore. You only have to read the labels of items you are thinking about using for her lunch. You don't have to be a nut-free household.

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answers from Washington DC on

My son has a nut allergy. It is very hard.

First, thank you for taking the time to learn what is and isn't expected from you. Not all parents are as understanding or accomadating.

I would ask the teacher to find out what types of items are allowed on a daily basis.

A girl in one of our grades as an airborne allergy to nuts. The kids in her class have to rinse their mouths and wash their hands before they enter the classroom. She eats in the office away from kids during lunch.

For my son's he doesn't have the airborne allergy, but if he touches the nuts or the oils, will break out in hives or have instant swelling. For school, we asked that items be store bought so that we could check the ingredients. It isn't that we think parents will sneak things in (althought I have learned that some will), it's the unwitting things ... like my father made us some pumpkin bread that normally has nuts in it. He made two batches, but made our nut-free batch after the batch with nuts, and didn't rinse the bowl first. He didn't think about the cross-contamination. All he thought was that he was making the batch without nuts.

Sunbutter is a safe alternative to peanut butter.

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answers from Honolulu on

If, your child has something with nuts in it... then, put a "cute" little note in your child's lunch bag, or in her school folder, for the Teacher, saying that your child's lunch has nuts in it.
So that.... the Teacher has a head's up. And so that, the kids that ARE allergic to nuts, can be not near, your child when eating.
The thing is, there is a WIDE range of allergic reactions to nuts. Some are minor. Some are even deadly. Some kids, even if they touch the nut residues that was left by someone... on a desk or door-handle etc., CAN have a dire reaction. To nuts.
Allergic reactions are not only via ingesting it. It can be from touching an object, or breathing in particles/dust of it.

The school, must have proper protocols and procedures in place, IF a child has a reaction to nuts. And the school's Health Room, must have their EPI pen etc. Or the child may have in on him/herself.

Of course, you cannot be perfect... in it and what food you send your child to school with.
But your child's school is just asking for assistance and awareness of it.

My kids' school is a NO NUTS school. And things that "may be produced...." in a factory that also may produce nuts/peanuts, is not allowed. I mean, the kid can eat it... but we have to wipe down the area and put up a little sign, and ask if any kids in the immediate vicinity on the lunch table is allergic to nuts etc. and have them sit not near, that child with the nuts. And then the child with the nuts containing food, has to wash his/her hands after eating.

Its complicated.

But also, my kids' school, sends a Flyer home to ALL families, each year, informing them of the No Nuts rule... but THAT, if a child is allergic to something... the parents and the child... ALSO HAS TO BE, proactive in it and TELL the Teacher and school and have a Doctor's note.
Because, in a school of say 700+ kids.... there WILL BE kids who are allergic to things. And, the allergic person/family themselves, needs to be... speaking up for themselves, too. So that, school procedures can be put in place and so that, the school/staff can then, HELP the child in avoiding the allergic food near her/him.

But also, some kids or parents DO NOT even say, if they are allergic to something. Until it is too late.
For example: at my kids' school, some kids are allergic to dairy or gluten. But... there they are, with a milk carton on their plate, AND it is open, AND they drank it. Why? Well, they tell us "I like milk... but I'm allergic..." after the fact. They already drank it. But in a cafeteria of over 100 kids, how can EACH bite or sip of a liquid, be "censored?"
But then, the parents of the child that drank that milk despite... gets mad at the school, and the Staff, is blamed.

It is complicated.
And it is not only the school's responsibility to check EACH food item and each liquid item, that is brought onto a school's campus and eaten. There is not enough Staffing nor time in a day... to check EACH child's food bag/lunch bag, or snacks they have and read the labels of it.
And, some kids will even sneak... a food and eat it, when no one is looking.
I have caught some kids doing that too. I work at my kids' school.
One kid even gave another kid his snack (even if food sharing is NOT allowed), and that kid was allergic to nuts... AND had a reaction. A bad, reaction. But that kid KNEW the snack had nuts in it. He ate it anyway!!!
Then the parents gets mad... at, the school.

And, some kids will even lie. There they are with a cookie, eating it, the nuts in it are OBVIOUS. And the kid will tell us "Its not nuts. Its oatmeal..." and the Staff is hard pressed to handle it, because then the kid goes home and tells their parent that we were "mean" to him/her and didn't let him/her eat their cookie. Then the parent gets mad, at the school/Staff for accusing their child.
It is, complicated.

And, some parents, will still, despite school rules, send their kid to school and their lunch bag is filled with nut products. And they do this, knowingly. On purpose. To make a "statement" to the school. I see this too, at the school I work at.

But NO... no school is saying that AT home... you have to switch to be a Nut-Free, household. No way.
They are just asking, that at school, to be aware of nut products.
And that many kids nowadays, are allergic to it.

So reading labels is also important.
But food labels are not easy to understand... AND also, each manufacturer, each year, they change the "lingo" of their ingredient products and labeling... so that, they can sell more products. I see the food labels each year, and how the manufacturers change the wording of it.

The bottom line is, we do what we can per our understanding of it. If not, ask the school.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

It would be helpful to know what exactly the nut allergies are. A lot of times, people are allergic to either peanuts OR tree nuts, but often times they're not allergic to both. I would think that the teacher could confirm one way or the other if the allergic child(ren) are allergic to peanuts specifically, or tree nuts, or both. Trying to eliminate ALL nuts from everything your child eats is a challenge, to be sure. If the teacher could help you narrow down what kinds of nuts you're really on the lookout for, that would help. If it's only peanuts, then your hazelnut bread isn't a problem. Or you could send a sandwich with almond butter rather than peanut butter.

That being said, we homeschool and attend a weekly co-op where there are children who are violently, severely allergic to peanuts (hence the reason they homeschool). Since my kids love peanut butter, and potentially peanut butter could be on any surface in my kitchen (even though I'm an obsessive cleaner ;), I just buy pre-made lunches for those days when we are going to be around the kids with peanut allergies. The supermarket deli guarantees that there are no peanuts whatsoever in their kitchen, so their kitchen is safer than mine in that regard. However, if I were having to make lunches every day, I don't know that I'd go to that extreme.

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answers from Los Angeles on

My son just started K as well. One of his classmates has a life threatening peanut allergy and is allergic to all tree nuts. At the first day orientation, the parents handed out a list of websites and other information. I am perfectly fine with not sending him with peanut butter, and we have been avoiding other nut butters. I use sunflower seed butter sometimes, but the parents also said that sunflower seeds are often processed with nuts. They held up a jar of soy butter, which we are just not going to use or buy. I don't like my son using too much soy anyway.

I think they would really like all of the other parents to read labels and eat/pack lunches the way they do. But they realize that is not likely to happen. She knows not to share food. The other kids know not to share food. The parents are very diligent and don't even let her drink from a drinking fountain in case another child put their mouth on the spout.

I don't want to be responsible for something happening to this girl, but we can't change our whole lives for this one person. We will, however, do our best to keep dangerous things away from her.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I think you are doing plenty already. I would not scrutinize every label. I would avoid obvious nut products. Even as you said, once you realized about the bread, eliminate that. If you are really nervous, let the teacher know what you are doing to make sure they are aware that you (and probably most others) are still likely bringing things in that are processed in a plant that produces nuts or whatever.

My DD is vegetarian, so peanut butter is a staple for her. But if required, I would stop sending those for her if it meant keeping another kid safe. There is a kid in another grade with a severe allergy, so much that they asked that all kids in the middle school not bring snacks with peanuts as just the 'peanut air' wafting in the cramped hallways could trigger something for him. I believe he eats somewhere else as they are all allowed to bring peanuts in lunches.

I think you are doing fine and plenty, and you are sweet for worrying! I'm sure this kid's mom has adequately prepped him and he has some basic safety precautions.

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answers from Reading on

If the nut allergies were severe, they would make it a rule or announce that. I think you're fine, but ask the teacher to check with the parents and get back to you. My friend's son is severely allergic to tree nuts but they have been encouraged to give him peanuts to prevent him from developing a peanut allergy. He knows not to eat anything he's unsure about or share food.

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answers from Chicago on

My son's best friend is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, and several other things. The classroom is a nut free zone. So, I do check every label and only send nut free snacks. Lunch is eaten in the lunch room. There is an allergy free zone in the lunch room for those with severe allergies.

To be sure, you should email or call the teacher. To me, by her asking parents to omit peanuts, that is saying it's a no nuts rule.

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answers from Houston on

No allergies in our home. So no need to accommodate the 'nut free' when packing a school lunch.

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