Utah schools coping with food allergies

Jan 1 2010 - 11:44pm

PARK CITY, Utah -- Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches -- that old lunch standby for brown-bagging students -- are getting harder to find in some Utah schools.

Several districts in recent years have implemented policies meant to limit students' exposure to foods they're allergic to.

One of the latest is Trailside Elementary in Park City, which implemented a ban on nuts this fall. Some parents of the school's 500 students think the policy goes too far, but Principal Pat Flynn disagrees.

"It comes down to the safety of the kids," Flynn said. "And I don't care if it's one or eight."

The National Center for Health Statistics says the number of children with food allergies rose 18 percent between 1997 and 2007. About 32,000 children in Utah have food allergies, according to the center.

Several districts in Utah, including Alpine, Granite and Jordan, already have policies addressing food allergies. Some create a nut-free cafeteria table, others don't serve nuts at all in the cafeteria food.

An allergic reaction can bring a range of symptoms, including difficulty breathing, vomiting, fainting or hives.

The Utah Food Allergy Network is pushing for consistency between schools and districts across the state.

"Some kids could die within minutes," said Michelle Fogg, the network's director.

Her two children's allergies include peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, sunflower seeds, mustard seed and kiwi.

State legislation approved in 2008 allows Utah students to carry epinephrine injections in case of an allergic reaction.

It's unclear why allergies are increasing and Dr. Richard Hendershot, an allergy specialist in Salt Lake City, said there is no known prevention or cure.

"No one knows for sure what the answer is," he said.

Federal legislation to address how schools should handle food allergies has been in the works for two years. Rep. Jim Matheson, R-Utah, is co-sponsoring The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Management Act of 2009.

"This legislation allows schools -- if they so choose -- to develop voluntary guidelines that may help Utah families manage the risks posed by food allergies during the school day," Matheson said.

Not everyone is in favor of mandatory bans on foods such as peanuts.

"I understand it's serious, but it's a minority taking over and enforcing their will on the rest of the entire school," said Scott McJoynt, who has a first-grader at Trailside.

 

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