The current state of school nutrition programs across the country can be described as extremely challenging. Post-pandemic, schools continue to struggle with supply chain issues and skyrocketing costs limiting menu options, packaging and paper goods. Not only that, but the staffing shortages have left schools across the country with job vacancies at or above 40%. Amid these challenges, school nutrition professionals have turned to peanut butter as a nutritious, shelf-stable, affordable food their students love. But what do schools do if they implemented a peanut ban? Many have decided it is time to bring peanuts back to school.
Peanut Bans Aren’t Best Practice
Experts have consistently stated that bans are not a best practice for food allergy management because they are impossible to enforce unless school staff inspects every food item that enters the school. Bans create a false sense of security, taking the focus off education and preparedness, the hallmarks of an effective food allergy management plan. Research has shown that peanut-free schools use epinephrine as frequently as those that are not (1). In a paper published last year in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, authors recommended against site-wide food bans and allergen-restricted zones because they are not medically necessary and unnecessarily restrict access to nutritious and safe foods by those without food allergy (2). The authors did note that certain circumstances, such when serving infants and toddlers or those with physical or cognitive impairments, allergen-restricted zones such as classrooms or tables may reduce the risks to children with food allergies in those situations (2).
Bringing Peanuts Back
In Lee County Schools (Florida), Amy Carroll, MBA, RD, and her colleagues were caught between a rock and a hard place when supply chain issues meant they couldn’t get many of the foods on their menu last year. When their supplier stopped servicing their district altogether, they partnered with a neighboring school district, adopting their menu. That neighboring district had individually wrapped PB&J sandwiches on the menu. Carroll believed their district’s peanut ban, implemented 18 years prior, didn’t make sense and was ready to champion the reversal. With the support of the school nutrition director and their administration, Carroll led the charge to bring back peanut butter to Lee County Schools’ 97,000 students.
At the heart of the effort by Carroll and Lee County Schools was communication. Carroll and her team created a novel internal and external communication plan that took four months to craft and unveil. In addition to emails to staff, parents and the community, they also communicated the change via:
- Custom digizine called Bringing Back the Peanut: Peanut allergy community education guide.
- TV podcast featuring the school nutrition director, wellness supervisor and the National Peanut Board’s (NPB) registered dietitian nutritionist.
- Podcast show with their PR partner, NxtGen Network.
Their efforts were even covered by the local TV station. By educating their community, in addition to providing food allergy management training for their staff, Lee County Schools is a great example of how to successfully reintroduce peanut foods to schools.
NPB has partnered with Carroll to share Lee County’s success story in multiple ways, including through presentations at the 2022 Southern Peanut Growers Conference, the Florida School Nutrition Association Annual Meeting and a School Nutrition Association webinar.
To help schools like Lee County and others bring back and keep peanuts on the menu, NPB has a one-stop resource at PeanutsinSchools.org.
- Bartnikas L, Huffaker M, Sheehan W, et al. Impact of school peanut-free policies on epinephrine administration. 2017;140(2):465-473.
- Waserman S, Criuckshank H, Hildebrand K, et al. Prevention and management of allergic reactions to food in childcare centers and schools: Practice guidelines. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2021;147(5):1561-1578.