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How one district drastically reduced allergic reactions

Bellevue School District in King County, Wash., has reduced the instances of life-threatening allergic reactions by 94% since 2013. Wendy Weyer, business manager for nutrition services, says that success stems from direct communication with the district’s 20,000 students. Here's how. food symbols allergens

Q: What was the first thing you did to start reducing allergic reactions?

A: More than five years ago, we changed our menu signage to provide information to students on what the common allergens were on all the foods that were served at every station. We use symbols such as an egg or a wheat stalk for younger patrons. Parents, nurses and students can access the lists online, and this year, we’ve become even more digital and now allow smartphone users to filter each day’s menu by allergen.

Q: How do you train staff to help reduce allergen risks?

A: We’ve trained staff on how to read labels and find the hidden meaning in some of the ingredients. We also teach them to double-check the provided menu signage to make sure an ingredient hasn’t been subbed in unbeknownst to us in the office.

Q: How have you partnered with other departments to promote allergen safety?

A: We have a very good relationship with the school nurses. They will bring students down to the cafeteria so that our staff can meet those who have life-threatening allergies. There’s that eye contact, but it also introduces the students to our cafeteria staff, so they know who to come to with questions. We use student photos in our POS systems at middle and high schools as a safeguard. 

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