Banning peanut butter

September 29, 1998

Excerpt of a Saturday New York Times editorial

REPORTS of some schools adopting peanut-free zones in lunchrooms and even total peanut butter bans may sound like a freakish health fad, but there have been rare cases where children who were severely allergic to peanuts have died after coming into contact with peanuts in school. With increased reports of food allergies among children, the impetus to protect the susceptible is understandable.

About 7 percent of children have some kind of food allergy, with effects that can range from mild itching to traumatic shock or the closing of breathing passages. While less than 1 percent of children are allergic to peanuts, peanut allergies can be more severe than allergies to other foods. Although there are very few deaths a year from food allergies, schools would still be wise to develop policies on this issue, particularly if a student comes forward with this problem.

Most experts, however, say banning a food is not a good solution, except perhaps in very controlled settings. Besides, banning one food might cause other parents to demand other bans.

Instead of bans, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends that schools clearly identify the ingredients in all foods served, and have medical response plans, including access to epinephrine injections to stop severe allergic reactions.

Parents of children who are severely allergic have good reason to fear what happens in cafeterias. There is probably no way to eliminate all risk, but schools have a responsibility to create policies that reduce this hazard.

Pub Date: 9/29/98

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