Eating in a school cafeteria can be stressful enough for some students. For students with food allergies, it can be dangerous on top of stressful. Cross-contamination, hidden ingredients and possible allergens left behind on the lunch tables can be concerning. While students are in school, it is important for cafeteria managers and other staff to learn ways to protect the students who have allergy problems. Keep reading as the food service and cafeterias experts explain tips for school cafeterias can take to protect students with food allergies.
Cafeteria workers are not the only ones who should have a role in this. Parents and other school administration employees should help as well. The Food Allergy Research and Education organization offers tips for all involved in a student’s life on how to help. Below are some ways cafeteria staff can help reduce the risk of students’ exposure to food allergens and lessen the risk of allergic reactions.
Identify The Students With Allergies
With the help of parents, it is important to create procedures to help identify children who have food allergies. This needs to be done without compromising their confidentiality and privacy rights. Ideas for accomplishing this can include posting updated allergy information for the students. If pictures are included, they may not be seen by other students as per the requirements listed under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
Read Food Labels Carefully
As each new shipment of food comes in, it is important to study the labels to ensure no changes to the ingredients have been made that can put students with allergies at risk. Always save food labels for at least 24 hours in the event a student has an allergic reaction and the ingredients need to be traced back quickly.
Understand How To Avoid And Substitute Ingredients
To meet the dietary needs of students with allergies, it is important for cafeteria workers to understand the best way to substitute food ingredients. When considering meal ideas, speak with the students and their parents to ensure allergens are identified and removed. Allow parents the time to adequately review new menus before serving them to students who have allergies.
Ensure Kitchen Is Properly Arranged For Safety
All kitchen cafeterias need to have a designated area that is safe to prepare meals for kids with allergies. Follow proper procedures and policies on avoiding cross-contamination and food allergens during the food preparation process. In the food prep area, keep a poster visible that shows FARE’s Cross Contact information in both English and Spanish.
Have a list of all vendors readily available so staff can contact them when they need information about the ingredients of the food they are serving. Ask each vendor to notify the manager of the cafeteria any time an ingredient gets substituted. This will allow the food department to evaluate if the new ingredient may affect a student with allergies.
Develop Good Sanitary Procedures
Everyone who works in or attends the school should be encouraged to wash their hands before and after they consume or handle food. All chairs and tables in the cafeteria should be washed regularly with an all-purpose cleaner or soap and water before food is served. Keep in mind that antibacterial gels are not capable of effectively removing food allergens off of the surfaces.
Be Prepared For An Emergency Situation
Have an emergency plan in place for each student who has an allergy issue. There should be an updated list detailing the method of treatment recommended by the student’s physician. Staff should be trained on using epinephrine auto-injectors and they should be readily available. Consider posting a FARE’s poster that outlines the symptoms of an anaphylaxis episode in the kitchen area where students are not able to see it.
Create An Inclusive Environment
It is important to create an environment for students to eat in with their friends and not have to worry about their allergies. No student deserves to eat alone because of their food allergies. If any bullying or discrimination becomes evident, it needs to be addressed right away. Always keep the parents of children with food allergies involved and encourage them to open up and share their experiences with others.