Food Allergies

Food Allergies image

Food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affect an estimated 8% of children in the United States.1, 2 That’s 1 in 13 children, or about 2 students per classroom. A food allergy occurs when the body has a specific and reproducible immune response to certain foods.3 The body’s immune response can be severe and life threatening, such as anaphylaxis. Although the immune system normally protects people from germs, in people with food allergies, the immune system mistakenly responds to food as if it were harmful.

There is no cure for food allergies. Strict avoidance of the food allergen is the only way to prevent a reaction. However, because it is not always easy or possible to avoid certain foods, staff in schools, out-of-school time, and early care and education programs (ECE) should develop plans for preventing an allergic reaction and responding to a food allergy emergency, including anaphylaxis. Early and quick recognition and treatment can prevent serious health problems or death.

Eight foods or food groups account for most serious allergic reactions in the United States: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.3

The symptoms and severity of allergic reactions to food can be different between individuals, and can also be different for one person over time. Anaphylaxis is a sudden and severe allergic reaction that may cause death.4 Not all allergic reactions will develop into anaphylaxis.

  • Children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to have asthma or other allergic conditions than children without food allergies.5
  • The prevalence of food allergies among children increased 50% between 1997–2011, and allergic reactions to foods have become the most common cause of anaphylaxis in community health settings.6
Managing Food Allergies at School
Food Allergy Guidelines FAQS pdf icon[PDF – 163 KB] Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergies In Schools and Early Care and Education Programs pdf icon[PDF – 10 MB]

CDC in consultation with the US Department of Education, several federal agencies, and many stakeholders, developed Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergiespdf icon [PDF – 10MB] to provide practical information and recommendations for each of the five priority areas that should be addressed in each school’s or ECE program’s Food Allergy Management Prevention Plan:

  1. Ensure the daily management of food allergies in individual children.
  2. Prepare for food allergy emergencies.
  3. Provide professional development on food allergies for staff members.
  4. Educate children and family members about food allergies.
  5. Create and maintain a healthy and safe educational environment.
cover of Managing Food Allergies in Schools resource

CDC created a toolkit to help schools implement the Voluntary Guidelines for Managing Food Allergiespdf icon [PDF – 10MB] in order to prevent and manage severe allergic reactions in schools. The toolkit includes tip sheets, training presentations, and podcasts for school superintendents, administrators, teachers and paraeducators, school nutrition professionals, school transportation staff, and school mental health professionals.

Managing Food Allergies in Schools
The Role of School Administrators
The Role of Superintendents
The Role of School Nutrition Professionals
The Role of Teachers and Paraeducators
The Role of School Mental Health Professionals
The Role of School Transportation Staff
The Role of School Nurses
  1. United States Census Bureau Quick Facts (2015 and 2016 estimates). Retrieved from icon.
  2. Gupta RS, Warren CM, Smith BM, Blumenstock JA, Jiang J, Davis MM, Nadeau KC. The public health impact of parent-reported childhood food allergies in the united states. Pediatrics. 2018;142(6):e20181235.
  3. Boyce JA, Assa’ad A, Burks AW, et al; NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of food allergy in the United States: report of the NIAID-sponsored expert panel. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2010;126(suppl 6):S1–S58.
  4. Sampson HA, Munoz-Furlong A, Campbell RL, et al. Second symposium on the definition and management of anaphylaxis: summary report—Second National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease/Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network Symposium. Ann Emerg Med. 2006;47(4):373–380.
  5. Branum A, Lukacs S. Food allergy among U.S. children: Trends in prevalence and hospitalizations. NCHS data brief, no 10. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2008. Retrieved from pdf icon[PDF – 313 KB].
  6. Jackson KD, Howie LD, Akinbami LJ. Trends in allergic conditions among children: United States, 1997-2011. NCHS data brief, no 121. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013. Retrieved from