The Big Idea: Allergy Safety

Program allows parents to know what allergens are in district's food items.

Allerschool is an online program that helps parents and students know what allergens are in every one of our food items. It went live in August 2011. It’s made our special diets management so much easier. We have a whole lot of students—it seems like more and more each year—who need special diets and special meals.

Jamie Humphrey, R.D.

Administrative Dietitian

Colorado Springs School District 11, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Allerschool is an online program that helps parents and students know what allergens are in every one of our food items. It went live in August 2011. It’s made our special diets management so much easier. We have a whole lot of students—it seems like more and more each year—who need special diets and special meals.

We have students who have allergies that are life-threatening or a disability, so for those we prepare specific meals. We have other students who have sensitivities but they aren’t life-threatening. For example, students who couldn’t tolerate dairy very well, but they weren’t highly allergic to it, they just needed to avoid most of its ingredients. They select from a list the items they are allergic to. Then a menu pops up that will show everything that is safe for consumption. The program filters out every derivative of dairy. A nutrition label might not say milk; it might say whey. This way parents can go in and say, the Asian rice bowl with pork stir-fry, are you sure that doesn’t have any dairy in it? You can click on it and it breaks it down to the lowest level possible. The program shows every ingredient in that rice bowl. It puts the power back into the parents’ hands.

When you look at an ingredient label it will tell you which of the top eight allergens are in that. But you don’t get things like asparagus or water chestnuts. We do have students who have allergies to strawberries or mushrooms. This program makes it a lot easier because those things are not as apparent on labels. Something like tapioca might have a different name. Previously parents would call me and say I have a child who has all these allergies and I want to make sure that the food you are serving them does not have such and such ingredient in it. I would spend a lot of time working with the parents trying to assure them that they could eat in the cafeteria.

For children with a life-threatening allergy, we create a special profile in the program just for that student. Everything is set up already with their preferences. Gluten is one we frequently have and it’s growing every year. Parents log in and select the date they want their student to eat. It shows the menu for that day and everything that is not safe for consumption would be filtered out. They can select what they want their student to have. That is submitted electronically. A copy goes to the kitchen manager. Our kitchen manager logs in and prints out the order and prepares the meal in a special area that prevents cross contamination. We have that meal ready when the student comes through the line that day.