The Allergen Solution


Hannah Kesten, Staff Reporter

For many, school cafeteria food is a convenient way to get lunch or breakfast without making it at home. It even helps some families financially when their children get free lunch. But what about kids with food allergies? Are they excluded from these benefits?

“I have to avoid certain meals in the line because if I eat something with peanuts or peanut butter, I’ll get sick,” Emily Bokelmann (10) said.

Actually, a system for students with intolerances and allergies has been set into place in every school in the county.

According to the CDC, an estimated 8% of kids, or two students every pre-pandemic classroom, suffer from food allergies. Luckily, the school has recognized this problem and has come up with different solutions.

The cafeteria offers substitute items for particular allergies, as long as you have a doctor’s note. For severe allergies, lunch is prepared separately and avoids cross-contamination.

“If it’s an anaphylactic or very sensitive allergy we try to work with the school and with the principal to have that student be the first student that comes through our lunch line,” said Skye Grundy, the district’s food nutritionist.

Mmmmm– Sam Waterman (10) gets his usual school lunch. The cafeteria featured items that people with common allergies such as lactose intolerance and peanuts could easily avoid. “It’s pretty clear what I can and can’t eat at lunch because it’s labeled,” Emily Bokelmann (10) said.

As well as separation, the cafeteria relies on cleaning to help steer clear of cross-contamination.

“As far as food handling, we have H.A.C.C.P., hazard analysis critical control points. We have a H.A.C.C.P. plan that’s going to address not only the cross-contamination,” Grundy said.

The plan helps with allergies as well as food safety in general.

Grundy also works with students and their parents one-on-one, coming up with solutions for each unique situation.

“I don’t like to have just one thing a kid can get when they come through our line; I like them to have some choices. Part of that is working with the student and the cafeteria manager so that the student knows that someone gets them and wants to help them find something, and they can ask for things or say ‘Hey, I really like this,’ and we can make sure we have it for them,” Grundy said.

For students who would rather avoid their allergies, the cafeteria cashiers see an allergen notification on their screen.

“We have a list of all of our items with allergens, and they’re gonna check that tray and make sure there’s nothing they’re allergic to on it,” Grundy said.

This system guides the students to what they can and can not eat from the standard lunch line. Students can also check on the Nutrislice app or the Manatee County schools website, which shows the lunch menu for the week. They display which major allergens each meal contains, and the app even has a filter to sort out foods with a specific allergy.

Some allergy combinations are tough to work with, such as gluten and milk. However, there always seems to be a solution.

“I have never in my eleven years told a student to bring their food from home,” said Grundy.