New food allergy guidelines for Texas schools


by JADE MINGUS / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist JOHN GIBSON

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Posted on May 23, 2012 at 5:31 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 23 at 5:42 PM

AUSTIN -- The state released new food allergy guidelines to protect students in public and private school districts in Texas.

Starting August 1, each school district must implement its own policy regarding food allergies. The guidelines suggest mandatory food allergy training for school staff, as well as easy access to epinephrine in case of an allergic reaction.

"Food allergies can be fatal," said Beth Martinez. Her eight-year-old son Lorenzo has suffered from food allergies since birth.

"He's allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, eggs and soy. It's very difficult to avoid all those things, especially in a school setting."

Lorenzo has to sit at a special table in the cafeteria, and only children who bring peanut-free products for lunch can sit there. One section of the table is a milk carton-free zone.

In the United States, one in every 13 students has a food allergy, which equates to roughly two children in every classroom.

"Peanut allergies have tripled in the past 15 years, which is a growing trend," said Dr. Allen Lieberman with the Allergy and Asthma Center of Austin.

Lieberman says it's not known why food allergies are on the rise in Austin. He says there is no way to prevent them, and there is no cure. The best way to manage is to avoid an allergic reaction and get tested, plus be prepared in case of emergency.

"If you have a child who can eat a food and end up in the hospital 10 minutes later, you really want to have guidelines and assurances that this won't happen, and if there is an accidental exposure, you know to treat it," said Lieberman.

Pflugerville Independent School District already has a policy in place. One component is to make all the district's cafeteria kitchens a nut-free zone.

"We definitely believe school should be a safe haven for kids," said nutritionist Linley Danner with PISD.

Austin ISD has a policy in place as well. Teachers are urged to avoid using food in the classroom for lesson plans and art projects. It also requires all staff to be trained to handle an allergic reaction, including bus drivers.