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12 Tips for Going Back to School with Food Allergy

For those who have children with food allergies, the beginning of classes always requires a little more preparation, to guarantee their safety and prevent the occurrence of reactions.

This school year will be the first since the publication of the Food Allergy at School Regulation , which establishes procedures for dealing with cases of food allergy in schools, identifies the different stakeholders involved, how they should act and what the responsibilities of each one are, highlighting the importance of formation of the school community.

With the publication of this document, parents' expectations regarding the inclusion and safety of children with allergies at school increase, but there are still many doubts. That's why we've put together a list of 12 Tips for Back to School with Food Allergy, so you don't forget the most important points.

1. Prepare Medical Documents

Make sure you have a medical certificate with you that identifies your child's allergies and indicates which medications to bring with you and how/when to take them. You will need this document to complete the student's Individual Health Plan.

You must also have an Emergency Plan that describes the procedures in case of suspected allergic reaction or contact with the allergen, detailing symptoms and medication(s) to be administered in case of allergic reaction/anaphylaxis and emergency contacts. In most cases, this document is issued by the Immunoallergologist who follows the patient, but if your doctor has not made it available, the Portuguese Society of Allergology and Clinical Immunology (SPAIC) makes available on its website two Emergency Anaphylaxis Plans that also show how to use adrenaline auto-injectors according to the brand.

2. Prepare the Emergency Medication Kit

Before returning to school, check that the antihistamine, corticosteroid and adrenaline emergency medication are within their expiration date and replace them if necessary. If the expiration date expires before the end of the school year, set an alert on your cell phone to remind yourself to refill your medication at that time.

Always have a copy of the Emergency Plan and updated emergency contact details with the Medication Kit.

It is important to place all medication and documents in a bag that protects them and is easy to identify in case of SOS. If you carry a backpack, you may need to use a thermal bag to avoid temperature variations that can damage the medication.

3. Schedule Meetings with the School

If it is a school that the child is going to attend for the first time, it is essential to schedule a meeting with the school as early as possible to make the child's situation known.

Prepare for the meeting knowing the Regulation , so that you can understand: if the Regulation's procedures are being implemented to deal with situations of food allergy; whether training is planned/scheduled; what is the sensitivity/level of knowledge about these issues; what additional information you can provide so that the child is better protected.

If it is a new school year in a school that you have attended before, meet with the management to remind you of the precautions to be taken, confirm if there has been a change in personnel who deal directly with the child and who need to be clarified about their situation and if there is a need of new formation.

If possible, try to involve in this meeting all the elements of the school that will be responsible for the child during the school year, the School Board, the School Health Team, the Multidisciplinary Team to Support Inclusive Education, the company providing the meals/staff kitchen (if the child eats at school), teachers and assistants and food service. The more elements that are informed of the risks, necessary precautions and how to act in an emergency, the safer the child will be.

4. Prepare the Individual Health Plan

Students with food allergies must have an Individual Health Plan according to the model of the Directorate-General for Education and Directorate-General for Health. According to the regulation, this must be prepared by the School Health Team in collaboration with the parents/guardians and the rest of the school team.

Take the sample Plan with you to the school meeting.

This includes all information about the student's health conditions, emergency contacts, list of foods to exclude, meals consumed at school, medication to be administered, symptoms of anaphylaxis and recommendations for action, training plan and authorization statement for administration of the emergency medication.

5. Meals at School

The School Board must guarantee safe and adequate meals in a dining place compatible with the student's needs, in conjunction with the kitchen/company supplying school meals. However, each case must be evaluated in relation to the conditions of the school and the needs of the student, which must be defined in conjunction with the school, the food service and the guardian, which meals are eaten at the school and where they come from ( provided by the school or prepared at home), and this information is included in the Individual Health Plan.

6. Training

The School Health Team must provide training to the staff who prepare the meal, namely regarding the care to be taken to avoid cross-contamination and to teaching and non-teaching staff, for the recognition and action in the face of an anaphylactic food reaction. Ideally, at the beginning of the school year, in all schools with students identified with food allergies and in those with more than 1000 students.

Make sure that this training is carried out, you have the right to request it from the School Board or directly to the School Health Team of the Group.

7. Prevent classroom reactions

It must provide sufficient information to the teacher to prepare him to avoid an allergic reaction, to recognize an emergency situation if it occurs, and to act in a timely and appropriate manner in the event of a reaction.

If the child has contact and/or inhalation allergies, it is important to warn of the presence of hidden allergens in school supplies and confirm that the materials used by the school are safe. The school must ensure that materials used, especially in pre-school education, for activities – “science” / “handwork and/or plastic expression” – eg. plasticine – they are safe and do not contain traces of food-borne allergens (eg milk, egg, …);

8. Remember the ID

In addition to the usual identification of all school supplies and other belongings with the child's name, it is important that the identification of the allergy is clearly visible to remind teachers and assistants of the care to be taken. You can choose to use allergy identification bracelets, backpack tags and/or lunch box with allergy identification and that you carry an Emergency Kit in case of Anaphylaxis.

If you take glasses and utensils for the child's meal from home, it is also important that they are well identified, so there is no risk of exchanges.

9. Help plan inclusion in school activities

It is important to sensitize the school and the teacher(s) so that the inclusion of the child in school activities, whether curricular, extracurricular or leisure, is guaranteed.

Ask to be informed in advance of any activity that may include the food allergen(s) so you can help find a safe alternative and your child can participate too.

If, for example, they are preparing a cooking activity, ask them to indicate the ingredients and brands they will use to confirm that there are no risks of the presence of allergens.

If you are preparing a craft activity with reused materials that may have been in contact with the allergen (eg egg cartons, milk cartons) ask to be notified so that you can provide safe materials for your child to participate safely.

Ask to be notified in advance of birthday parties or other exceptional ones where food with the allergen(s) is present, so you can take it from home or suggest a safe alternative. Fidu Cake Preparations can help in these cases, as they are easy, quick and safe solutions.

10. Prepare the backpack with medication and essential foods

Always bring the Emergency Medication Kit with all the necessary information and safe and sufficient food for the child's daily needs in the backpack.

11. Teach your child to deal with his food allergy

Depending on the child's age and developmental level, it is important that they understand their condition and learn to protect themselves. Talk to your child and explain that they have an allergy, what causes it and what the consequences are if they come into contact with the allergen.

For example, teach him to never eat anything that has not been given to him by his parents, to ask if he has the allergen before eating, not to accept food shared by colleagues especially if it is not packaged and there is no way to confirm its safety, to alert the responsible adults (teacher/helper) if you experience any symptoms.

12. Get involved in school activities

If possible, consider getting involved in the parent association or volunteering to help organize activities that require parental involvement, so you can also get the message across to other parents and make sure your child is included and welcomed. with safety.

Good school!