J ust when you think you’re all set to welcome the newest addition to your child care program, little Susie’s mom chimes in, “I forgot to mention. Susie is deathly allergic to nuts. Can you accommodate her?”
Before you start madly examining the floor of your child care center or home for peanut shell remnants, or begin throwing everything in your snack cupboard out, know you aren’t alone in addressing nut allergies. With 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18 having a life threatening allergy to nuts in the US today, it’s inevitable that at some point you are going to have a Susie walk through your door.
To make it easier for you to accommodate children with nut allergies, we came up with a list of easy ways to make your facilities as safe as possible (without having to go to extremes!)
Educate yourself: It’s better to be safe than sorry. With that in mind, you should arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can about treating a nut allergy in a child care setting, should an accident happen. Online courses like How to C.A.R.E.™ for Students with Food Allergies from FoodAllergy.org are designed to help teachers, administrators and other school personnel prevent and manage potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. And because it’s available online, the course can easily be shared with all of your staff.
Educate the children: As a preschool director, it’s impossible to prevent kids from touching each other, and although skin to skin contact with someone with a nut allergy likely won’t result in anaphylaxis (life-threatening type of allergic reaction.), it’s still good to talk to your children about nut allergies and what could happen if little Susie comes into contact with nuts. The popular PBS show Arthur has a DVD and educational activity unit around food allergies that will make this conversation all that much easier (and entertaining!). Check it out here.
Have a plan: Make a “daycare emergency plan” for dealing with a nut allergy incident, and keep it in a place where all your staff members will see it on a regular basis (on a bulletin board or on the fridge for example). F.A.R.E. (Food Allergy Research & Education) has a great emergency care plan available for download with clear instructions on how to treat both mild and severe symptoms.
Keep it clean: To avoid any chance of cross contamination (since even the smallest trace of nuts can be dangerous), always do the following:
Clean and sanitize all surfaces in your daycare where food is prepared or eaten with soap and water (or an all-purpose cleaning agent)
Clean and sanitize all food preparation equipment including utensils, cheese graters, vegetable peelers, strainers, and blenders as well as trays and baking sheets, etc. before and after each and every use. If you’ve cooked on or in it, even if it was covered in wax paper or aluminum foil, it needs to be cleaned.
Always have your staff and children wash their hands thoroughly with liquid or bar soap and water. Note: hand sanitizers are great for germs but useless against food allergens. In a pinch, commercial wet wipes will work.
Check the ingredients: Before serving any snack, check to make sure that the product isn’t labelled as containing a “major food allergen” such as peanuts or tree nuts. U.S. law requires that all allergens must be listed on product labels which makes ensuring a product is nut free that much easier. This handy checklist makes it easy to identify what foods might be harmful in your preschool.
Know the signs: By familiarizing yourself and your staff with the signs of a possible allergic reaction, you will ensure the allergy is addressed quickly, before it escalates. Some of the signs of a young child suffering from a nut allergy may include them putting their hands in their mouths or pull, scratch at their tongues, have a noticeable change in their voice, or even slur their words. An older child may tell you that the food is too spicy, that their tongue is hot, burning, or tingling, or that there’s a frog in their throat, just to name a few possibilities. F.A.R.E has a great straightforward comprehensive list of symptoms worth reviewing here.
Accommodating children with nut allergies doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation in your child care or preschool program. By arming yourself with the tools and knowledge for keeping your center as nut free as possible, you can ensure that the exp