Do your school caterers know their auto-injectors from their antidotes?

That’s the question posed by an Oxfordshire nut mum after she took a closer look at Caterlink’s Nut Allergy Guidelines. Here she tells us what she discovered.

“With the new 2014 school year came a new challenge, whether free meals for every child in reception, year 1 and year 2 would include nut allergic children. My twin boys, one with a tree nut allergy, one without, often ask to try school dinners, so I decided to find out about the new caterer’s nut policy.

After a failed attempt to obtain the policy from school, I contacted Caterlink direct and they sent me their Nut Allergy Guidelines for staff. I wasn’t especially surprised to see the meals were not guaranteed nut free, making it an easy decision to stick with packed lunch.

Screen shot Caterlink 6.10.14 nut policy

However, what I read in the emergency section so shocked me I knew it was only fair that other parents were made aware of it.

Caterlink, featured on BBC’s The One Show as the new school meals service was rolled out and supporter of the School Food Plan, are on the front line at the most dangerous time of day for food allergic school children. The company is a big player in the UK school and university meals business, so you’d expect them to know a thing or two about food allergies.

Yet there on the second line of their emergency advice it read ‘an antidote to administer to known nut allergy sufferers’. A term not usually associated with adrenaline auto-injectors such as Epipen – these guidelines were clearly not well researched. Worse was to come, in bold and underlined it read “do not administer medication under any circumstances”. So even if a first aider can’t be found – even if a 999 operator is telling them to – even if a child is dying and they are the only one there? A chilling thought. You would hope if a child’s life was in danger any one would use the Epipen, trained or otherwise, that’s what it is there for.

At my son’s school it’s unlikely Caterlink staff would be called on in an emergency, but the fact that this policy exists and is given such prominence was a real concern. The calculations of an insurance company may lurk behind it, but it’s an appalling position to put staff in. Signed by Managing Director, Neil Fuller, the advice ends “Remember, death from an allergic reaction to food can take place in less than 10 minutes”.

Screen shot Caterlink 6.10.14 emergency action

There were other problems; no mention of laying the person down, or sitting them up if they can’t breathe; ensuring they stay put until the ambulance arrives, reducing the risk of heart attack; no clear explanations of the differences between mild and serious signs of a reaction.

Outlining my concerns to Caterlink, I asked them to urgently review their emergency advice, suggesting 7 days, and to let me know what changes had been made. I also forwarded an example of a good policy found on the internet; St Paul’s Girls’ School’s policy shows a good understanding of nut allergies and anaphylaxis and makes clear an auto-injector should be used straight away. It doesn’t prohibit anyone from using it. Caterlink emailed back to say my comments had been passed on to the relevant people and I’ve heard nothing since.

Alerted to the danger of assuming everyone would be well informed about allergies in schools, I started asking more questions. My son told me pupils don’t wash their hands before lunch and everyone sits where they liked, including next to those eating peanut butter and chocolate spread. He’s unlikely to react to peanuts, but that’s not the case for the other two nut allergic children in his year.

A month into the term I attended the school’s Epipen training. There were no trainer auto-injectors available. Taking my own Epipen trainer into school the next day I discovered that, whilst many teachers had been trained in previous years, this was the first time for my son’s teacher (let me reiterate, that’s a month into school). The school is listening to concerns raised by myself and other mums of allergic children and we anticipate changes.

So please, if you don’t know your school policies, if you don’t know what happens at lunch-time, if you haven’t seen your school’s caterer’s nut policy – make enquiries and challenge anything you wouldn’t allow to happen at home. Schools are about education, but you may find you’ll need to educate your school about allergies.”

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