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CDC Releases Food Allergy Guidelines for Schools


December 4, 2013

By Amy Dickerson and Jamel Greer*

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new recommended guidelines to schools on how to serve students with food allergies. The Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies in Schools and Early Care and Education Programs (Guidelines) were developed in response to Section 112 of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (enacted in 2011) that calls for the Secretary of Health and Education to make guidelines available for interested schools to help manage the risks of food allergies. While these recommendations are not mandatory, the CDC believes implementing these guidelines will make schools safer for millions of students across the country. The CDC estimates that approximately 5% of children have food allergies and 88% of schools have at least one student with a food allergy.

The CDC recommends that schools have a comprehensive food allergy management plan that is both appropriately proactive and reactive, and that includes provisions such as:

  • Requesting parents to provide the school (prior to the start of every school year) with documentation from their child’s physician or nurse supporting a food allergy diagnosis
  • Creating and managing an individual plan for each student with food allergies
  • Communicating strategies between schools and emergency medical providers, including emergency response instructions
  • Implementing strategies to reduce student risk of exposure to anaphylaxis-triggering agents in classrooms and common school areas
  • Providing general information on life threatening food allergies to school staff, parents and students
  • Training school personnel who regularly interact with students on food allergy management
  • Training school personnel to timely access and administer epinephrine when the nurse is not immediately available
  • Creating a response plan to address any anaphylaxis incidents during extracurricular programs (i.e., field trips)
  • Keeping a record of each time a student at risk of anaphylaxis receives epinephrine and promptly notifying parents

The CDC’s Guidelines are consistent with the Illinois School Code’s requirement that the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) develop guidelines for the management of students with life-threatening food allergies that include 1) education and training for school personnel who interact with students with life-threatening food allergies; 2) procedures for responding to life-threatening food allergies; 3) a process for the implementation of individualized health care and food allergy action plans for every student with a life-threatening food allergy and; 4) protocols to prevent exposure to food allergens. ISBE adopted such guidelines in 2010 (Guidelines for Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Illinois Schools). As a result, all Illinois school districts are required to have a policy based on ISBE’s guidelines.

The CDC Guidelines are another source for school districts to look to when reviewing and updating their food allergy management policy and procedures. They further illustrate a national trend to address reducing the amount of emergency allergic reactions that occur in schools across the country.

* Jamel Greer, a third-year law student at Loyola University Chicago School of Law, is a Loyola Education Practicum Student. The Practicum, part of Loyola’s education law curriculum, was created to provide law students with practical experience at education law firms and organizations. Students receive academic credit for their Practicum experience. 

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