Garrett Berdan is a registered dietitian and chef who provides training to K-12 schools. With a formerly food allergic son – an allergy to peanuts which he has since outgrown – Berdan understands the challenges of handling potential food allergens, and preventing exposure from cross contact in volume foodservice. He applies his personal experience and technical training to help schools properly manage food allergies.
It is undeniable that peanut butter is a beloved comfort food for people of all ages. Peanut butter is an important nutrient-rich and low-cost food for American families, and many children rely on this natural source of plant-based protein. When it comes time for eating meals at school, having peanut butter on the menu makes for a well-accepted, familiar option.
I have worked with school meal programs across the US and I see many schools successfully serving peanut butter. Not just in scratch-made and pre-made sandwiches, but also alongside sliced apples, with bananas, with carrot and celery sticks, or with pretzels or pita wedges for dipping. I have also encountered school nutrition programs that have chosen to remove peanut butter and peanuts from their menus out of fear of allergic students having a reaction. These unnecessarily drastic measures are usually a result of not understanding the facts about peanut allergy.
That’s why I’ve created a video series with the National Peanut Board to educate school nutrition professionals with the facts about food allergies, best practices for handling them in foodservice and how to make PB&Js and a tasty peanut sauce while managing food allergy risk.
Link to video
Link to video
Link to video
To clear up any confusion, here are some quick facts about peanut allergies:
- Just under 1 percent of the US population has a peanut allergy
- The aroma of peanuts cannot produce an allergic reaction
- Skin contact with peanuts is unlikely to cause a systemic reaction or anaphylaxis
- Ingesting peanuts is the only way to cause a life-threatening allergic reaction
Thankfully, peanut allergic students can be accommodated in school meal programs while also being able to offer peanuts and peanut butter to all other students. Preventing cross-contact and following best practices for managing food allergies can make all the difference.
Here are some best practices for managing peanut allergy in school meal programs:
- Thoroughly wash and sanitize all utensils and equipment before and between uses.
- Prepare and package all allergen-free special diet meals before preparing other items.
- Consider using designated separate utensils and equipment for preparing peanut-containing foods.
- Wash and sanitize all dining tables between each meal seating.
- Use highly visible labels indicating the common food allergen on all packaged and bulk-served foods on the line.
There are many resources available for school meal programs about best practices for managing food allergies. The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the Institute of Child Nutrition offer a training program on this topic that counts towards professional standards hours. The program can be found at https://professionalstandards.fns.usda.gov/content/managing-food-allergies-school-nutrition-programs. Additional resources from national organizations and advocacy groups can be found at https://peanutallergyfacts.org/for-schools.
Be sure to check out the three instructional videos above that include tips for making scratch-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, preventing cross-contact, and a recipe for delicious and versatile Asian-style peanut sauce. When school nutrition professionals put the simple steps of food allergy management into practice, everyone can be confident in the meals served to all students.
 Boyce, J; Assa’ad, A; Burkes, AW; et al. Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel. J Allergy Clin Immunology. 2010; 126(6): S1-S58.
 Simonte, S. Ma, S. Modi, SH Sicherer; Relevance of casual contact with peanut butter in children with peanut allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003; 112: 180–182.
Simonte, S. Ma, S. Modi, SH Sicherer; Relevance of casual contact with peanut butter in children with peanut allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2003; 112: 180–182.