Banned food list has gone nuts in Australia
SCHOOLS have banned lunchbox staples such as egg, mayonnaise, Nutella, peanut butter, kiwi fruit and bananas to protect a handful of students with severe food allergies. Children are not allowed to share food and have to wash their hands and face after recess and lunch to prevent cross-contamination.
While the number of Australian children suffering from food allergies is on the rise, official guidelines on anaphylaxis in schools do not recommend blanket bans.
Many schools forbid all nut products, but some have gone further, to include eggs and egg-based mayonnaise, fish products, fruits and chocolate that may contain traces of nuts. Canteens do not sell the offending products and parents are told not to pack them in their child's lunchbox.
Medical experts, parents and interest groups oppose the bans, arguing they pander to anxious parents and create a false sense of security when a risk-management strategy would be more effective. "There is no scientific evidence to suggest banning a food from a school is helpful in reducing risk of anaphylaxis," NSW Department of Education and Training guidelines say.
Milk and egg are the most common food allergens in children, but many outgrow their allergy by the time they start school, leaving peanuts and tree nuts as the most dangerous culprits.
Associate Professor Dianne Campbell, a staff specialist in immunology at The Children's Hospital at Westmead said it is almost impossible to have an anaphylactic shock from touching a contaminated surface. They could, however, get a localised reaction such as hives or welts.
"But unless you've eaten it or absorbed it onto a mucosal surface like your mouth or eye, you can't actually have a systemic reaction, ie anaphylaxis," she said. "If someone is eating an egg sandwich or having mayonnaise and they're four lunchboxes away from you and you're not touching them or sharing food, you really shouldn't be able to have a dangerous reaction from that. But it's very anxiety provoking for the parents."
NSW Primary Principals Association president Geoff Scott said schools were "allergy aware" and vigilant but bans were impossible. "Banning of a product in another child's lunch prepared at home is a bit problematic as it's very difficult for a school to check 800 lunches to find out what's in each," he said.
"Obviously, no school lives in a bubble and, for those children who are anaphylactic, you just put in place as much risk-management as you can."
Croydon Public School principal David Horne said all nut products were banned including Nutella and marzipan, the canteen did not sell egg or egg-based mayonnaise, and parents were asked not to send egg products and kiwi fruit to school. "If a child comes with those foods, they need to inform their teacher and wash face and hands immediately after eating it," he said.
A Canberra school visited last month by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd warned journalists who had eaten a banana in the previous 12 hours they were not permitted to cover the visit due to allergy concerns.
Anaphylaxis Australia president Maria Said said she knew of independent, Catholic and government schools that had imposed food bans but they were overreacting. "Have hand-washing procedures, have children eat at designated times, no sharing of food, make sure teachers are trained and children have awareness of food allergy - those strategies will work much more effectively than saying we have a blanket ban on kiwi fruit or mayonnaise," she said.