Going to school with food allergy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the day your child will be in contact with many staff members and other children. They may move around to different locations, both inside and outside the childcare centre. Since there can be risks in different settings, procedures should be in place to manage food allergens. This is also true for special activities, such as class trips and bus travel.
Find out if your child’s childcare centre has a policy or guidelines for managing food allergies. Some may have this in place. Others may lack a clear policy if they have not had children with food allergies before, so you may have an opportunity to get involved with the policy development. In any case, you should set up a meeting with the childcare director to discuss your child’s needs.
Talking to childcare staff
Before you choose a childcare centre, arrange a meeting with the centre to discuss your child’s food allergies. Talking to childcare staff about your child’s food allergies is a balancing act. You will need to get the seriousness of the allergies across to them, ensuring that they understand. You also need to let them know that you’re a partner, willing to help and educate along the way.
Some questions to ask, before your child starts childcare:
- Is the staff trained on how to use an auto-injector such as EpiPen® or ALLERJECT®? Do they understand that it is important to use it promptly in an emergency?
- Do the staff understand the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis?
- What is the childcare centre’s policy around food? What foods are served and how is food prepared? What rules do they have about food allergies (such as rules against sharing food)?
Allergy-aware in childcare
- Download an Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan that you can share with the childcare centre. This form includes your child’s name, photograph, and specific allergy or allergies. It should be posted at the childcare centre, where everyone can see it.
- Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan
5 strategies to help keep your child safe
- Create an Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan for your child and share it with the childcare centre.
- Discuss the plan and practice using the auto-injector with the staff (training devices can be ordered from epipen.ca and allerject.ca).
- Arrange to meet with the staff well before your child is set to start. Choose a day and time where things are quiet at the childcare centre and you can have their full attention.
- Talk with staff about preventing reactions in a childcare setting. See our Resources for Educators page for more information.
- Teach your young child to tell an adult if they are not feeling well, using words they understand.
A note on food preparation
Childcare centres where food is prepared must take special precautions in the kitchen and in the serving of food. Some things to look for when choosing a child care centre:
- Do staff ensure that children have washed hands before and after eating? Is there a policy about this?
- Do they keep foods that do not contain a child’s allergens away from those that do (for example, a special shelf in the cupboard and refrigerator)?
- Do they clean surfaces before and after eating?
- Will they prepare allergen-free food before food that contains your child’s allergens, and set your child’s dish aside, covered, to prevent cross-contamination?
- Does the centre take proper precautions in serving food, such as using separate serving utensils?
Staff should understand how to read labels, to ensure that your child is not exposed to his or her allergens. Ask them to read the label and do the Triple Check:
- At the store or with the supplier when purchasing the food.
- When they return to the centre and put the food on the shelf.
- Once again before preparing and serving the food.
In your initial meetings with the childcare centre, discuss what to do in an emergency. Make sure that staff understand the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis, and how to respond.
Bring an auto-injector training device with you and let each staffer practice using it. If there are staff that cannot be present at your initial meeting (for example, if it is just the Director present), arrange a follow-up meeting to go over the details of your child’s Anaphylaxis Emergency Plan and other information with all staff.
Involve your child
Young children attending childcare for the first time may benefit from meeting with the teacher and visiting the classroom to become familiar with the new setting. While they should not be expected to understand or manage their allergies on their own, your child can be taught some basic rules, such as:
- Wash their hands before and after eating.
- Only eat food that is approved by a trusted adult (or only food from home, if applicable).
- Use dishware, utensils (spoons, forks, etc.), cups and bottles meant for them. They should not share with others.
- We have a free online course, Anaphylaxis in Child Care Settings, for child care professionals.This interactive course covers the basics of anaphylaxis, including recognizing and preventing reactions, what to do in an emergency, and the roles and responsibilities of the child care community.
- Anaphylaxis in Child Care Settings