Policies regarding food allergies vary widely from school to school and sometimes even from classroom to classroom. In some areas, entire school districts have gone nut-free, banning peanut products from the school lunch menu and asking parents to refrain from sending in peanut butter sandwiches for their kids. In other areas, teachers still hand out peanut M&M's as a reward for kids who listen to instructions or do well on a test.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released a new set of guidelines that hope to encourage schools to take a closer look at their food allergy policies and ensure that all schools are safe for all students. According to CDC estimates, four to six percent of kids in the U.S. have food allergies and almost 90 percent of schools have at least one student with a food allergy in attendance.

The new guidelines are voluntary, but advocates say they could make schools safer for millions of children nationwide. They could also mean the end of things like food rewards in the classroom, cupcakes to celebrate student birthdays, or informal classroom parties.

"When allergic reactions occur, they can be severe and can mean a child takes an ambulance ride or even dies," says Wayne Giles, director of the CDC division of population health in an interview with USA Today. "These guidelines are about preventing those events."

So what do the new food allergy guidelines entail. According to the CDC, schools should:

  • Avoid common food allergens in class projects, parties, snacks, science experiments and cooking exercises.
  • Train staff to use epinephrine (such as Epi-Pens) in case a student has an allergic reaction
  • Ensure that children with food allergies are not excluded from field trips, extracurricular activities, physical education or recess.
  • Consider designating allergen-safe zones in the lunchroom.
  • Use non-food rewards as incentives for students.
"We want all kids to be safe and included," Lehr says. "If the kid next to you gets a candy bar as a reward but you get a pat on the head or a sticker, you feel bad. But when everybody gets a sticker, you feel good about getting a sticker."

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