Food Allergies 101 – Safe for Schools Snacks



Food Allergies 101 & Safe for School Snacks!

If you’re a parent with a child in school, there’s a good chance food allergies have come up in conversation. Whether your child has an allergy themselves, or you’ve been contacted by your child’s school with careful guidelines on what allergy friendly foods they can bring in their lunches. As a parent, it’s imperative that you understand the severity of allergies and are alert to the risks of food allergies for the safety of your kids and others.

Did you know that 2.6 million Canadians self-report having at least one-food allergy? Did you also know that the incidence is highest among young children (under 3 years of age)? May is food allergy awareness month in Canada, and CDHF has partnered with MadeGood Foods to raise awareness on the importance of understanding food allergies and anaphylaxis so that you and your child can eat and share food risk-free.

Knowledge is power – so let’s start with the basics.

What’s a food allergy?

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly sees a certain food protein as harmful. The first time the individual is exposed to the food, the body’s immune system responds by producing defensive antibodies called immunoglobulin (IgE). When the individual is exposed to the same food protein again, even in the smallest amount – a chemical (histamine) is released that cause a reaction in your respiratory system, stomach and intestines, skin or cardiovascular system. The symptoms of allergic reactions vary in type and severity, from mild skin irritations and hives to breathing difficulties and loss of consciousness. In the most extreme cases, food allergies can be fatal.

What’s a food allergen?

Your child can be allergic to any food, but some allergies are more common than others. Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), allergy associations, and the medical community have identified substances associated with food allergies and allergic-type reactions as “priority food allergens”. They are as follows:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Mustard
  • Peanuts
  • Crustaceans and molluscs
  • Fish
  • Sesame seeds
  • Soy
  • Sulphites
  • Tree Nuts
  • Wheat and triticale

Even the tiniest amount ‘hidden’ in a food or a trace amount of an allergen transferred to a serving utensil has the potential to cause a severe allergic reaction.

What is anaphylaxis?

Anaphylaxis (pronounced anna-fill-axis) is a severe allergic reaction that happens very fast and may cause death. Individuals with food allergies at risk of anaphylaxis carry an epinephrine auto-injector (such as EpiPen) which contains life-saving medication in case of an allergic reaction.

Signs of an anaphylactic reaction may appear alone or in any combination, regardless of the triggering allergen. They can be:

  • Skin system: hives, swelling (face, lips, tongue), itching, warmth, redness, rash
  • Respiratory system (breathing): coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, throat tightness, hoarse voice, nasal congestion or hay fever-like symptoms (runny, itchy nose and watery eyes, sneezing), trouble swallowing
  • Gastrointestinal system (stomach): nausea, pain/cramps, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Cardiovascular system (heart): pale/blue colour, weak pulse, passing out, dizzy/lightheaded, shock
  • Other: anxiety, feeling of “impending doom”, headache, uterine cramps, metallic taste

The most dangerous symptoms of an allergic reaction are:

  • Trouble breathing causes by swelling of the airways (including a severe asthma attack for people who have asthma)
  • A drop in blood pressure causing dizziness, light-headedness, feeling faint or weak or passing out
    • Both can lead to death if untreated.

It’s important to remember that not every reaction will always look the same, and a child can have different symptoms each time. Anaphylaxis can occur without skin symptoms or hives. A child may describe their symptoms differently than an adult. For example, “my throat is tingly” or “my tongue feels scratchy” so do not ignore early symptoms and always take a possible reaction seriously and act FAST.

How are food allergies avoided and treated?

There is currently no cure for food-based allergies. The ONLY way to prevent them from happening is to avoid the specific foods responsible. As a parent, keep in mind that severe reactions aren’t predictable. Your child may have a mild reaction one time and a severe one the next – or vice versa. There are important steps you can take to help protect your child. Some general tips from the Health Canada include:

  • Read labels carefully

    • Make sure you take the time to read product labels carefully.
    • Manufacturers sometimes change the ingredients used in familiar products, and different varieties and sizes of the same brand may contain different ingredients, so check the label every time you shop.
    • It is important to consume only products with a list of ingredients and avoid bins of bulk food where ingredients lists may not be available and where there may be a risk of cross-contamination between bins.
  • Watch out for cross-contamination

    • Cross-contamination occurs when an allergen is unintentionally transferred to a food product that doesn’t normally contain that allergen.
    • Look for precautionary statements like “may contain X” (where “X” is the name by which the allergen is commonly known).  Such statements are usually related to possible cross-contamination.
    • Precautionary statements indicate that foods could have been unintentionally exposed to an allergen some time during the manufacturing process and aren’t safe to eat for those with food allergies.
  • Don’t take chances

    • Avoid food products that contain the specific allergens and/or derivatives of the specific allergens that you are allergic to.
    • Avoid food products that bear a precautionary statement naming an allergen that you are allergic to.
    • Avoid food products that don’t list their ingredients or food products that contain an ingredient that you don’t recognize.
    • When someone else is preparing food for you, whether at a restaurant or a friend’s home, make sure they know about your food allergy, so they can take steps to avoid cross-contamination and alert you to any ingredients of concern.
    • Even if a dish doesn’t contain the food to which you are allergic, it still might have been in contact with it through utensils and cooking pans. When in doubt, don’t eat it.

What brands make safe for school foods for children with allergies?

We understand that finding allergy friendly snacks can be hard, but there are brands out there that take allergies as serious as you do.  That’s why we have partnered with MadeGood Foods. Their products are made in a dedicated facility free from the most common allergens which means they are safe for schools – but also very tasty! Not only are they allergen friendly, but they are also certified gluten free, vegan, and even offer a full serving of vegetables! Check out their certification badges that they proudly display on their packaging:

If you are interested in giving them a try, we recommend MadeGood crispy light granola and cereals.


We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but with our busy on the go lifestyles – it can sometimes be hard to prepare breakfast every day. Breakfast time can be even tougher when your child or your child’s friend has allergies. MadeGood’s vanilla or cocoa flavoured rice crisp cereal is not only the healthy breakfast option but its allergen free and tastes great!

Crispy Light Granola:

Another great breakfast option, MadeGood’s crispy light granola is a product we LOVE not only because its allergen free and safe for school, but because it has a fraction of the calories and sugar of most store-bought granola and cereals. The oats come from dedicated gluten-free fields and processing facility and each portion is packed with nutrients! They also have several flavours to satisfy all the picky eaters in your family.

No one really knows why food allergies are on the rise – but they unfortunately are. One theory, known as the “hygiene hypothesis”, suggests that people living in western countries are living in cleaner and more sanitized environments. The immune system – exposed to fewer germs than our bodies are used to dealing with- mistakenly identifies certain foods as harmful.

Of course, genetics also play a role in the development of food allergies. Much research is being done into the cause, and the potential treatment, of food allergies.

In the meantime, we must come together as a community to raise awareness of allergens in food products, so you and your child can share food together – without fear of an allergic consequence!