Search form

Cooking with Joy

Why Teachers Need
To Know About
Food Allergies


By Joy Rotondi

The increase in the number and severity of food allergies among children means teachers must know how to deal with reactions. Joy Rotondi suggests ways teachers can prepare themselves to respond in the event of a food-allergy emergency.
Included: Links to Web sites about allergies, asthma, for kids and adults.    

Peanut allergy. Anaphylaxis. EpiPen. Epinephrine. Autoinjector. Anaphylactic shock.

About the Author

Joy Rotondi

Joy Rotondi recently returned to the classroom and teaches sixth-grade language arts near Boston, Massachusetts. She was raised in an Italian-American family happily obsessed with good food. Her prowess in the kitchen was first noted when she whipped lime Jello to a mousse at age 7. By age 12 she'd advanced to the salmon mousse in aspic featured on the cover of Gourmet.

On Thanksgiving Day 1996, with the help of friend and culinary cohort Cindy Blandino, she launched, a playful site dedicated to serious American cooking. has been featured on CNN, Better Homes and Gardens , and in The Wall Street Journal, among other places. Her bread and butter for the last 11 years has been designing and maintaining Web sites for the culinary world, including restaurants, culinarians, and food marketers. Rotondi lives on Boston's North Shore with her 12-year-old, a Shetland sheepdog, and four hens.

Visit her Web site

Scary words. And scarier stories. Weve all heard them -- the reports of children who had severe, even life-threatening allergic reactions after exposure to tiny amounts of peanut products. As a result, many schools have gone peanut-free. Some schools have designated peanut-free grades and mandated that all common food areas, such as kitchens and cafeterias, are peanut-free for everyone. The peanut butter and jelly sandwich has gone the way of the dodo bird.

As teachers, we are finding that allergy management has been added to our already lengthy unwritten job description. It is a challenging -- and somewhat frightening -- responsibility. With so many food allergies and food intolerances out there -- soy, wheat, lactose intolerance, Celiac disease -- why does the peanut allergy trigger the most fear?

Because more people die from a reaction to peanuts than any other food. The reaction can be violent and immediate. Even trace amounts of peanut material can rapidly induce anaphylactic shock in an allergic person. Anaphylaxis causes blood pressure to plummet and can shut down the respiratory system.

Peanut substance can be found in processed Asian food Thai, Indonesian, Chinese as well as American staples such as cookies, crackers, cereals, soups, and sauces. To further complicate things, 30 percent of the time a peanut allergy, which is an allergy to a legume, coexists with a tree nut allergy. Additionally, caregivers of allergic children and adults must read the label every time they purchase a food item, because ingredients dont always stay the same. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) works closely with some U.S. food manufacturers to monitor these changes. Youll be surprised that Entenmanns Raspberry Danish Twist, for instance contains cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts and pecans. You'd never know that from the name! There are almonds in Freihofers 12- Grain Bread and in Arnolds Natural Flax & Fiber bread. These ingredient changes took place just in the last few months of 2008.

When I was a kid, teachers, and even some students, feared the epileptic seizure. Teachers were trained in how to deal with epileptic children, and students were sometimes advised how to behave in an emergency. Fortunately, though epilepsy is still with us, medical science has gone a long way to reducing the risk of seizures.

On the other hand, food allergies -- in fact, serious allergies of all kinds -- are on the rise. As a person who has experienced anaphylaxis and survived, I assure you that it would be a dark day if a student were struck in your classroom. You might not even recognize the symptoms until it was too late. For instance, a sharp drop in blood pressure is not visible. A child who is flushed or having trouble breathing or who breaks into hives could be suffering from a wide range of ailments. Yet these could be symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.

“The peanut butter and jelly sandwich has gone the way of the dodo bird.”

Fortunately, we have the brave and diligent school nurse, our first line of defense when it comes to protecting the health of our students. Talk to her. Ask to be trained in the use of an EpiPen, the medication of choice in the case of a severe allergic reaction. The EpiPen is an autoinjector a tension loaded, self-administered (or lifesaver-administered) shot of precious adrenaline. Know where they are housed in the nurses office. Keep one in your desk if one of your students is at risk. (Benadryl is often used for milder allergic reactions.)

Nurses and parents should work closely to protect and monitor the allergic child and the school environment. As teachers, we need to be sensitive to children and families -- both allergic and non-allergic -- and we should stay knowledgeable and vigilant. Explore some Web sites about food allergies (see below.) Talk to children, parents, and above all, the nurse at your school.

A wise school nurse once made the whole teaching and custodial staff at a school at which I worked experience the terror of asthma. She had us all plug our noses and breathe through a little red cocktail straw pressed between our lips. Suddenly, we all saw little Johnnys inhaler as a gift from heaven. Anaphylaxis is not something we can simulate. But it is real and it can be deadly. Be supportive of efforts at your school to protect the health of every student. Learn. Teach.


The following sources were recommended by the nurse at my school: