Schools: Be Allergy Aware, NOT Allergy Scared

The National Allergy Council’s Best Practice Guidelines for Anaphylaxis Prevention and Management in Schools  state it is ‘NOT recommended that schools ‘ban’ food and as such schools should not claim to be free of any allergen (e.g. ‘nut free’)’. The Guidelines have been developed in consultation with key organisations, principals and staff working in the school sector and parents of school-aged children.

We call for schools to update their policies in line with best practice, rather than banning foods which has been common in schools in the past.

Food allergy occurs in around 5-10% of children and 2-4% of adults in Australia and New Zealand1-3. This number has increased in recent decades and children can be allergic to ANY food. The most common triggers of food allergy are egg, cow’s milk (dairy), peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, wheat, fish, and other seafood.

We acknowledge that it can be very worrying for parents who have children with severe food allergy to send their child to school. But it is not possible, or best for these children, to completely remove all allergenic foods from schools. In fact, banning foods is difficult to enforce and can create a false sense of safety for children with food allergy. It is unrealistic to think that parents who are not educated in avoiding food allergens can safely choose foods, or understand ingredient lists, so as not to pose a risk to other children.

An important skill to teach children with food allergy is to always check that the food they are about to eat is safe . This can be a lifesaving skill, which the child with food allergy can learn at a young age, and may be safer than trusting that all food they will be offered or are around is safe. Banning foods from school does not reinforce this lifesaving skill for the child with food allergy.

An ‘allergy aware’ approach for schools instead focuses on a range of appropriate risk management strategies such as:

  • education for the children, staff and the school community regarding the management of allergies and anaphylaxis
  • encouraging the children with food allergies to have an anaphylaxis management plan in place at the school if appropriate and ensuring staff know which children have food allergies and what foods they are allergic to
  • encouraging all children to wash their hands before and after eating
  • discouraging children from sharing food,  and educating children and the school community the reasons why
  • informing parents in advance if there is an activity in the classroom involving food
  • having ‘allergen-restricted zones’ in classrooms with very young children, when eating may be messy; or for children with special needs who may not be able to manage their own allergies. In these situations it is important not to isolate children with food allergies.

The Best Practice guidelines suggest that it is a reasonable strategy for the canteen to be peanut and nut free to minimise accidental exposure. These specific foods are not staple foods providing essential nutrients. However, canteens cannot be free from other common allergens such as milk and dairy products, wheat and eggs. Children can have serious food allergies to these foods too, which is why an ‘allergy aware’ approach is so important.

We encourage schools to be allergy aware and not be allergy scared. Lists of banned foods are difficult to enforce and create a false sense of security for children at risk of an allergic reaction.

For more information about the Best Practice Guidelines and risk management in schools, head to the National Allergy Councils’ Allergy Aware website . If you need advice about your school, contact Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia

Our team at Advanced Dietitians Group are experienced paediatric dietitians with expertise in food allergy and intolerance. If you are seeking extra support for your child, click here to read more about our team or here to book an appointment.

The National Allergy Council is a partnership between the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia (A&AA), working in consultation with key stakeholder organisations.


1. Sasaki et al. Prevalence of clinic-defined food allergy in early adolescence: The SchoolNuts study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2018: 141(1): 391-398
2. Tang MLK, Mullins RJ. Food allergy: is prevalence increasing? Intern Med J. 2017. 47(3): 256-261
3. Mullins RJ. Increases in anaphylaxis fatalities in Australia from 1997 to 2013. Clin Exp Allergy, 2016. 46(8): 1099-1110.

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