Awareness of Food Allergies Keeps Snack Time Safe

When did snack time become a risk?

When it comes to working with children, there’s no doubt your ministry must take special care to ensure their safety, whether it’s in the classroom or on the playground. But who would think that snack time could be one of the most dangerous activities for some children?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in October 2008 that the number of American children with food allergies has soared 18 percent in the last decade, with an estimated 4 percent of children and teens now affected with food allergies.

Allergic reactions can include a tingling sensation around the mouth and lips, hives, or even death, depending on the severity of the reaction. Just eight types of foods account for 90 percent of all food allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat.

Food allergies in children can sometimes be so severe that they may not even have to ingest the food for a reaction to occur. A child who is allergic to milk can have a skin reaction just by putting their hand in a few drops of milk that spilled on the table. A knife that is used to spread peanut butter may accidentally be used to slice a jelly sandwich for a child who is allergic to peanuts. Even the smallest bit of peanut butter can be very dangerous to a child with peanut allergies.

Educate your staff and volunteers

Do you know how many children in your ministry have food allergies? Do you have policies and procedures in place to protect these children, as well as to prepare your staff and volunteers in the event of an adverse reaction?

By following some simple guidelines and putting a few procedures in place, snack time can be what it’s meant to be in your children's ministry —a time of fun and fellowship.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Read the entire list of ingredients before serving any snack. Even foods that seem safe may contain hidden ingredients that can cause allergic reactions.
  • When in doubt, don’t serve it. If a food is in question, do not have it in the same room as a child with a food allergy.
  • Know how to use an EpiPen® and be ready to use it at all times. (Check with the child's parents; a prescription is required for an EpiPen®.)
  • Train all ministry staff and volunteers about what to look for and how to respond.
  • Develop and administer legally-approved policies regarding children (or adults) with special medical needs like food allergies.
  • Ask your agent for additional resources, such as the Insurance Advisor
  • Download a sample Special Medical Needs Agreement.