What is food allergy?
Food allergy is a reaction of the body's immune system to some common, otherwise harmless, substances in food. A very low level of an allergenic substance may cause a potentially fatal allergic reaction in susceptible individuals. A local survey revealed that about 1 in 20 children in Hong Kong reported having a food allergy. Therefore, it is necessary for all school catering staff to be fully educated about what foods contain allergens, and which foods are suitable for specific dietary needs.
Common food allergens include:
|Allergens||Some typical examples of food item in which allergens may be found|
|Cereals that contain gluten (e.g. wheat, rye, barley and oats)||
|Crustaceans (e.g. prawns, crabs and lobsters)||
|Molluscs (e.g. mussels and oysters)||
|Tree nuts (e.g. almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans and walnuts)||
|Sulphur dioxide and sulphites
Symptoms of food allergy
Symptoms of food allergies usually develop within several minutes to two hours after consuming the offending food.
Common food allergy symptoms include rash, swollen face or lips, shortness of breath and itchy skin.
In most cases, allergic reactions to food are uncomfortable but not particularly dangerous. However, food allergies can cause a potentially fatal reaction known as anaphylactic shock in severe instances. This can present severe symptoms including constriction of the airways, difficulty breathing, severe drop in blood pressure and loss of consciousness. Anaphylactic shock requires immediate emergency care.
Advice for schools and childcare facilities
To minimise the risks of food allergy in children, schools and childcare facilities are advised to:
- Have clear instructions and protocols in place to reduce the risk of cross-contamination of allergens during food preparation.
- Obtain the students' food allergy history along with other medical history at the beginning of each school year.
- Ensure that meals can accommodate children with food allergies and specific dietary requirements.
- Ensure that all catering personnel are informed of the ingredients in the foods they serve. Check the ingredient list for prevalent allergens and take precautions to reduce the risks.
- Read food labels carefully to identify any food or food ingredients of allergic concern.
- Prepare and train staff for handling food allergy emergencies.