Smithfield Herald

Food allergy pilot program helps students avoid problem foods

Four Oaks Elementary has piloted a program to help students manage food allergies.

The elementary school has the greatest number of students with food allergies in the county, so the school system chose it to implement a new food allergy advertising system.

Rachel Findley, director of child nutrition at Johnston County Schools, led the program, along with the help of interns from Meredith College.

“It’s a communication tool between our department and students with allergies,” said Findley.

The top eight food allergens are listed on the glass shield above the food buffet line, and the foods containing specific allergens have an X marked next to that allergen.

Findley said she saw the program at work firsthand one day when volunteering in the cafeteria at Four Oaks.

“I was serving in line and a student came through the line and had an egg allergy, and she told us she was allergic to eggs,” said Findley.

“We didn’t have to think about what had eggs in it, we just looked at the labels above the different foods and gave her the ones that did not have eggs marked as an ingredient.”

The eight foods included are wheat, soy, egg, milk, peanuts, fish, shellfish and tree nuts.

Four Oaks principal David Pearce said the program has been a help to teachers.

“The teachers have loved it because instead of going to a clipboard to see if a child would be affected, it’s now right there in front of them,” Pearce said.

He also said that as a parent with a child who is severely allergic to eggs and peanuts, it helps to calm his fears.

“It’s comforting to know I can bestow on my child the responsibility of knowing what she can and cannot have. And this way, she doesn’t have to be embarrassed to ask about it; she can see it for herself,” Pearce said.

Each of the food labels have pictures, too, so younger children can identify the specific foods they need to avoid.

Findley said the school system will decide this summer which schools in the county will adopt the program next year.

She said there are 520 students in the school system with medical statements that say they have to avoid certain foods.

“It has been increasing pretty dramatically every year,” Findley said.

Unfortunately, even though the new labels make the food line safer for those with allergies, they still don’t address the biggest concern for students, which is sharing food with classmates.

“It’s usually in the classroom, if a student is swapping snacks with another student, that they’ll be exposed to something that’s not safe for them,” Findley said