NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Food allergies are on the rise at an alarming rate. For officials in New York’s public schools, it’s a constant challenge to keep allergic kids safe. While New York City’s Department of Education currently has no formal policy on banning foods from school cafeterias, there are safety measures in place at schools statewide to prevent exposure to the top eight foods that cause allergic reactions: Peanuts, shellfish, fish, tree nuts, eggs, milk, soy and wheat.

A Team Effort

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The New York City Department of Education considers food allergy management a team effort, but even they admit that it’s nearly impossible to establish and maintain a “peanut-free environment” in school cafeterias. The state’s education department even touts peanut butter as an economical source of protein. While food sharing is strongly discouraged in schools, the state’s department of health has published a detailed document on how to handle food allergies; with a focus on alerting school staff – including teachers, office staff, the school nurse and the cafeteria manager – about any allergies so they can be ready in case a child has a reaction. Plans are also in place in New York schools to help manage food allergy reactions in cafeterias by training staff to handle medical emergencies with an emergency care plan tailored to each individual student.

Peanut-Free Schools

While some schools have established “peanut free” zones in their cafeterias, a few schools have taken the increasingly common peanut allergy head on by banning all nut-related foods from being brought into school. For instance, P.S. 150 in Tribeca is a completely nut free school. Students are not offered any types of peanut products during school-bought lunch. Furthermore, kids who bring their lunches are not permitted to bring any nuts, peanut butter sandwiches, granola bars, peanut butter cookies, or any foods cooked in peanut oil. The policy is so strict that it also instructs children to wash their hands if they eat any peanut products at home before coming to school. While most schools don’t go to this extreme, many schools in New York have separate lunch tables designated for children with severe food allergies.

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Sunflower Substitutes

In the state of New York, food allergy management is definitely on a school-by-school basis, right down to whether or not a district will serve foods with common allergens. In Buffalo, for example, the public schools offer a lunch choice of peanut butter and jelly, but kids with peanut allergies can request Sun Butter; a sunflower spread as a substitute to peanut butter. A record of students’ food allergies need to be on file with the school cafeteria, too.

Other Safety Guidelines

Still, while some schools still offer peanut and wheat products, the state’s food and allergy guidelines contain plenty of suggestions for keeping the lunchroom (and the classroom) safe. In addition to designated allergen-safe areas and major wipe downs of shared desks and cafeteria tables, many New York schools have strict policies on birthday celebrations and encourage non-food treats instead of things like store bought cupcakes. When maneuvering the classroom and the cafeteria, a little extra hand sanitizer won’t hurt anyone either.

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