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Family Nutrition & Health

Food Allergy Awareness

A recent study found that between 1 and 5 percent of the total population has a proven food allergy – that’s about 12 million Americans. Most young children outgrow the common early childhood allergy to milk and eggs by age 4, while other food allergies, such as to peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, usually last a lifetime.

Eight foods account for more than 90% of food allergies
Cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts (including almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, cashews and more). To determine the culprit, begin by systematically eliminating the suspect food. Before seeing an allergist, keep a food diary and list what is eaten and any symptoms that appear as a cause. Once you’ve identified the allergy, preventing an “attack” is simply a matter of diligence. 

Managing at home
It’s easiest to manage a food allergy at home because you’re in control.
•   Always read food labels and encourage all family members to read and understand food labels
•   Be sure family members wash their hands before and after eating to avoid contamination
•   Use soap and water to scrub counters, tables, utensils, cutting boards, bowls, pans and pots before and after food prep and meals
•   Keep separate sets of utensils and dishes if the allergy is severe
•   Store “safe” food on separate pantry and refrigerator shelves
•   Add “safe” and “unsafe” labels to food containers
•   Discourage kids from sharing tastes from each other’s plates
•   Have a food allergy emergency kit and plan in place and be sure everyone knows where it is – including babysitters and visiting relatives

Managing at school
Parents and kids can be proactive in preventing an allergic reaction at school by partnering with the school staff
•   Start by knowing the foods that your child must avoid and the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction
•   Ask the school about their approach to food allergy management and comply with their rules
•   Prepare an action plan and provide it to the school nurse. Include a complete list of foods that your child is allergic to, the possible symptoms that will occur, the treatment you prefer, emergency medical contact information (including your doctor’s number) and any other information or medications (including an epinephrine pen) the school may require
•   Talk to your child’s teachers about food in the classroom and cafeteria. Ask about “no food sharing” rules and hand washing routines
•   Encourage using non-food items as academic rewards and celebrations  
•   Be sure your child has non-perishable “safe” snacks on hand for unplanned events and emergencies

Teens and food allergies
•   Sharing cups, straws and utensils with friends can expose you to an allergic reaction
•   Read the labels of any food you’re going to eat at a party or restaurant. In doubt? Don’t risk it
•   If you have severe food allergies, be sure you have an epinephrine pen with you all the time in case you have a reaction.

For more tools and resources on managing food allergies, visit the Food Allergy Research & Education site.

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