In part one of this blog series, Nothin’ to Sneeze At, we reviewed the basics of food allergens, symptoms, and potential reasons for the increase in prevalence over recent years. Now, let’s discuss how you can actually manage food allergens in your school nutrition program.
It’s crucial to tackle food allergy management head-on. Create a team, develop plans and standards, provide training, and then put your plan in place.
1. Form a Team
Creating a team of key staff for food allergy management is critical for several reasons, one being to ensure consistency in communication to your staff, students, and parents.
Team members may include, but are not limited to: the school food service director and/or manager, the school nurse, the dietitian, teachers, the principal, and the school counselor. As these roles are related, it’s important for everyone to be on the same page. For example, the food service staff is responsible for not only feeding the students, but also adhering to proper storage and cleaning standards. The dietitian is often responsible for creating menus, and noting special menu items or recipes for students with food allergens. Meanwhile, the nurse ensures their safety in case of an allergic reaction, and the school counselor works with parents and students. These key staff members can ensure cooperation across the site and even your district for consistency in food allergy management and prevention.
Make sure to schedule recurring meetings with your team, for example – weekly, to first develop a prevention plan and training program for your staff, and then to maintain the plan and regularly check in on the status.
2. Develop a Prevention Plan
Determine key factors in your plan, making sure to meet federal requirements such as Section 504. Define clear goals and expectations, and makes sure they are easy to understand and achieve.
A few notable areas to address are: policies for medical documentation, preventing but also preparing for emergencies, creating a healthy and safe environment, and food allergy management in school buses and field trips.
Your school nutrition software can also play a large role in allergy management. One way to do so is by keeping an updated student list of your POS system. Verify that your POS can flag students with food allergies, and includes a picture of the students as well.
In addition, ensure your menu planning software can mark food allergens at the ingredient level, for automatic detection once you build recipes, menus, and menu cycles. This will not only save your staff time, but eliminates error by manual entry, which can be imperative in this situation.
3. Train Staff & Educate Parents/Students
Training your staff and providing knowledge is an essential step in food allergen management. Identify resources already available when planning these courses. Check in with staff members (who may or may not be part of your core team), for special knowledge or skills and their interest in training a class.
Training examples for food allergy management include:
Recognize the symptoms of an allergic reaction and know how to respond
Avoiding cross contact and cross contaminations
Storage and preparation procedures
Hand washing procedures
Reading labels and identifying ingredients
Food allergy education
If your school nutrition program is involved in open house at the start of the school year, make sure to provide educational flyers on food allergies and your prevention plan. (If not- it can be a great way to boost participation and highlight your program to parents and students alike!).
Activities throughout and at the end of training is a great way to increase engagement, as well as determine if the information was successfully retained, or if the training needs fine tuning.
4. Maintain the Plan
Put your plan into action and keep meeting with your core team in order to discuss results, feedback, and challenges faced. Based on this information, determine if any modifications are needed to your prevention plan, and make sure to have the team’s full agreement before proceeding with changes.
Enforce the plan with consistent communication and signage across these separate departments and key staff members. Set scheduled tasks and reminders to ensure the plan is maintained over time.
Once training is complete, don’t stop there! Continue to offer training regularly throughout the year. This not only helps to maintain consistency and success in your program, procedures, and standards, but also increases your staff’s level of knowledge and skills.
Do you have any personal experiences, challenges, successes, or tips and tricks to share? I’d love to hear – comment in the section below!