ATLANTA — The federal government is issuing its first guidelines to schools on how to protect children with food allergies.
The voluntary guidelines call on schools to take such steps as restricting nuts, shellfish or other foods that can cause allergic reactions, and make sure emergency allergy medicine — like EpiPens — are available.
The new advice calls for schools to do such things as:
• Identify children with food allergies. Food allergies are a growing concern. A recent CDC survey estimated that about 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies — a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s. Experts aren't sure why cases are rising.
• Have a plan to prevent exposures. Many food allergies are mild and something children grow out of. But severe cases may cause anaphylactic shock or even death from eating, say, a peanut.
• Designate someone to carry epinephrine. About 15 states — and numerous individual schools or school districts — already have policies of their own. The guidelines released Wednesday were required by a 2011 federal law.
• Plan parties or field trips free of foods that might cause a reaction. Peanuts, tree nuts, milk and shellfish are among the food that most often most trigger reactions. But experts say more than 170 foods are known to cause reactions.
• Make sure classroom activities are inclusive. For example, don't use Peanut M&M's in a counting lesson, said John Lehr, chief executive of an advocacy group that worked on the guidelines, Food Allergy Research & Education.