Updated guidance on school-wide allergen bans

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father and son spreading peanut butter

Over the past two decades, peanut products have been banned in Canadian public schools. While peanut allergies affect two in 100 Canadian children, new research out of McMaster University has found little evidence that school-wide bans are actually effective in preventing allergic reactions. The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, provides evidence-based recommendations for policymakers to determine the best strategies for managing childhood food allergies in a variety of settings, like childcare centres, and elementary, junior and primary schools.

The guidelines were developed by an international panel of key stakeholders, health professionals, school personnel and parents. They recommend that rather than banning allergenic foods from schools all together, childcare and school personnel should receive proper training on how to prevent, recognize and respond to allergic reactions. Additionally, the panel suggests schools and childcare centres keep a stockpile unassigned epinephrine autoinjectors on-site.

Researchers reported approximately one in ten allergic reactions in children, including cases of anaphylaxis, occur in schools or childcare centres, whereas 90% of reactions occur elsewhere. According to the research, there are no studies estimating the risk of death from anaphylaxis in school settings, but it can be determined that death from food-induced anaphylaxis is rare in any setting. Overall, studies have not found that site-wide bans on allergenic foods reduce the risk of allergic reactions.

The panel’s final recommendations are:

- Childcare and school personnel receive training on how to prevent, recognize and respond to allergic reactions.
- Unassigned epinephrine autoinjectors be stocked on-site.
- Parents of children with food allergies should provide the school with an allergy plan.
- Childcare centres and schools do not prohibit specific foods site-wide.

 While these recommendations were formed using evidence and reviewing several global studies, they’re still conditional: school resources and comfort level of parents, children and administration should be considered if school-wide bans are removed. However, if adopted, these recommendations could potentially reshape future Canadian children’s relationships and perceptions of allergenic foods – including peanut products – permanently.