My nephew’s school almost put his life in danger… 3 times… in one week.
When I heard the details I was very disappointed, and I realized that our food allergy community’s goal for 2017 must be to turn complacency into awareness and understanding.… it’s a goal that I believe can save thousands of food allergy children around the world from grave and life-threatening danger. It won’t be easy. In fact, we may never truly accomplish our goal as it’s a never-ending battle. But that’s OK. Because as long as we remain diligent our children will be all the more protected.
My nephew Noah (not his real name) is allergic to peanuts and attends a private elementary school in NY. Last year my sister-in-law asked me to meet with the school’s administration to help them better understand the dangers of food allergies and to assist them with their goal of becoming “nut free”. We left that meeting encouraged. While significant changes needed to be made, Noah’s school was committed to the safety of its growing food allergy student population and promised to implement the necessary steps to being truly “nut free”.
Very quickly, my sister-in-law’s life became a lot less stressful. The changes Noah’s school committed to undertake offered her peace-of-mind that Noah was safe while in school. It gave her a window of several hours a day in which she could keep her guard down. Or so she thought…
First, Noah's teacher gave out candy bags to his class for the holidays and one of the snacks in the bag was manufactured in a facility that processes peanuts. The next day Noah's school gave out donuts to the students, and instead of purchasing the donuts from the nut-free bakery the school had promised to use exclusively going forward, they were purchased from a local bakery that is not nut free. Then, when Noah asked if the donuts were safe for him, he was told by an administrator that they were - even though they weren’t.
How could this have happened in a school that claimed to be “nut free”? Weren’t the teachers properly trained on what they could and could not give their students? Weren’t the proper controls put in place to ensure that food items (in this case donuts) were only purchased from approved facilities? Wasn’t the entire administration educated on food allergy protocol? It seems as though my sister-in-law would have been better off had she not been under the false impression that Noah’s school was committed to food allergy safety.
My theory is that Noah’s school got complacent. After all, in the year since they became “nut free” they had zero food allergy incidents in the school. They had agreed to change and put a new processes in place, but at a certain point let the process run on “auto-drive”. And I think this story is a microcosm of what many of us in the food allergy community are dealing with. We constantly warn friends, family and others about our children's food allergies and we often times get assurances from them that assuage our concerns and put us at ease. Yet every once in a while we’re left scratching our heads; a remark or incident has us wondering if people truly “get it” and if we’ll ever be able to trust our food allergy children to anyone but ourselves.
Is it all a false sense of security? Can we really trust the ones we trust? I think the answer is that we need to turn complacency into awareness and understanding - both for ourselves and the people we trust. While we the food allergy community need to live our lives, we must never take anyone’s commitment for granted and make sure no one takes their own commitment for granted. I think Lao Tzu put it best when he wrote: “To know yet to think that one does not know is best; Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.” Food allergy awareness and education is a never-ending battle that we must always be fighting, and sometimes it’s the people closest to us that need to hear it from us the most.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and safe 2017 to all my followers and the entire food allergy community!