On Wednesday, March 4th, over 40 school nutrition staff members from Braintree Public Schools gathered at the high school to learn about food allergies. JSI instructor Christanne Harrison gave an informative and beneficial presentation on food allergies and intolerances, food labels, and strategies to manage food allergies in school.
The difference between food allergies and food intolerances was explained. Food allergies are abnormal responses from the immune system to a protein in the body, while food intolerances are adverse food-induced reactions by the digestive system to sugars.
The top 8 major allergens list was a popular topic for discussion among the group, with explanations given about labeling laws and key ingredients to look for on food labels. Labeling laws now require all products to declare the presence of any of these allergens in plain language on the label:
During the workshop, the group discussed symptoms of food allergies and what to look out for. The important role school nutrition staff play in schools was emphasized. Nutrition staff must read food labels for allergens, consider menu substitutions, avoid cross contact between allergens, create a safe and inclusive cafeteria environment, be aware of food allergy symptoms, and be prepared to follow an emergency communication plan – making them the unsung heroes of the school!
The group participated in different activities, including a food label activity and an allergy scenarios activity. These activities helped the staff think about real-life situations and procedures. In addition to these activities, different menu substitutions that could be used in the kitchen for meals for students with allergies were also discussed. Some substitutions include replacing milk with fortified soy milk, replacing pasta with quinoa, barley, or rice pasta, and replacing peanut butter with sunflower or soy butter.