Approximately 327,000 New Jerseyans suffer from food allergies, and nearly 100,000 of them are children. What’s more, the number of sufferers are on the rise. For example, the number of children with peanut allergies doubled in a five-year period between 1997 and 2002.
That makes school lunches a particular challenge for many families. The eight most common allergic reactions are to milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, tree nuts (walnuts, pecans, avocados, etc.) fish and shellfish. Some children are so sensitive to their allergies, that even airborne contact with a substance such as peanuts can cause anaphylaxis, which is potentially fatal. (There are 200 deaths due to anaphylaxis nationwide each year.)
Allergies are different from food intolerances, such as celiac disease, although the resulting food limitations are the same. Celiacs cannot eat gluten, which is found in wheat, rye and barley. There are no statistics available for New Jersey celiac sufferers, but nationwide the estimate is 1 in 133 people. That would mean that an estimated 65,000 people in New Jersey suffer from the disease. For more information see celiac.com.
The good news is that the federal government now requires all food containing one of the eight major allergens to clearly indicate their presence on the label. In 2007, the New Jersey legislature ordered the state Department of Education and the state Department of Health and Senior Services with creating statewide food allergy management and policies for New Jersey schools.