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Information Update - Allergens and food safety at school - What's in your child's lunch?

OTTAWA, Aug. 20, 2014 /CNW/ - 


Serious allergic reactions to food often happen without warning and can quickly become life threatening for some children.   

What you should know

As many as 1.2 million Canadians have food allergies and this number may be increasing, especially among children. Up to six per cent of children are estimated to have food allergies. 

The symptoms of allergic reactions can range from mild skin irritations and hives to breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness. Symptoms can also develop at different rates, sometimes getting worse very quickly. The most dangerous symptoms include breathing difficulties or a drop in blood pressure with shock, which may result in loss of consciousness, or even death. 

Although many foods can cause allergic reactions, most allergic reactions in Canada are caused by peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, soy, seafood (such as fish, crustaceans and shellfish), wheat, eggs, milk, sulphites and mustard.  These ten items are known as "priority allergens".

To date, there is no cure for food allergies. Avoiding the allergen is the only effective way to prevent allergic reactions. This is why it is important that allergic children not be exposed to allergens that regularly cause extreme and sometimes fatal reactions. For this reason, many elementary schools do not allow certain foods in student lunches.

What you should do

Because of the potential seriousness of allergic reactions, many schools have policies in place to stop students from bringing certain items in their lunches. It's very important for you to follow the school's food allergen policy closely, even if your child does not have allergies.  Make sure your child is aware that it is not safe to trade or share food with other children, in case they have allergies.

Here are some specific tips to follow if your child does have food allergies:

  • If your child has food allergies, your doctor may prescribe an adrenaline auto-injector such as an EpiPen®. 

    Always carry an EpiPen® and know how to use it. If it is your family members who are affected, teach them how to use it and stress the importance of always having it with them. At the cottage or on a trip, be sure to keep one or more EpiPens® on hand.
  • If your child is subject to severe allergic reactions, train him or her to read labels and ask questions before eating foods.
  • If your child is allergic to a certain food, make sure the school knows about the allergy. Work with school staff to come up with a strategy to keep your child safe.
  • Remind your child that it is not safe to trade or share food.

What about food labels?

To help parents and Canadians with food allergies identify foods that they should avoid, Health Canada has recently updated the rules governing the labelling of priority allergens. Details are available on food allergen labelling on Health Canada's website.

  • ALWAYS read the labels on the food you pack in your child's lunch. Don't pack any food with ingredients that are not allowed at your child's school.
  • Look for warning statements on the label such as "May Contain..." Remember, even trace amounts can cause a severe allergic reaction.

 For more information

Stay connected with Health Canada, and receive the latest advisories and product recalls using social media tools.

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SOURCE Health Canada
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