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Time to end peanut bans in Quebec schools, focus on education instead: allergy group

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Many schools in Quebec have bans in place to protect children who are allergic to peanuts but the provincial agency that advocates for people living with allergies is actually recommending an end to those policies.

Jeannine Cafaro has had to cater to her daughter Nora's allergies for nearly five years.

"She was diagnosed with her first allergy around seven months old and shortly after, we added a few more allergens. So she outgrew one. And developed a few more," Cafaro said in an interview.

Today, Nora is allergic to eggs, most tree nuts, sesame and avocado. Cafaro worked with her daycare to manage the allergies but now Nora will be going to school.

"Going to kindergarten is a whole other ballgame now. She's going to have friends next to her eating lunches that may contain items she's allergic to," she said.

It is estimated there are 75,000 students in Quebec schools with allergies. For several decades, some schools have put peanut bans in place.

But these bans no longer serve a purpose, according to Allergy Quebec spokesperson Dominique Seigneur, who says that they give parents a false sense of security.

About 20-25 years ago, when there was a big increase in food allergies among children, the schools didn't know what to do to protect the children because there were so many more children that had allergies so they said let's ban," Seigneur said.

She says allergies have changed. There are currently nine food groups that account for 90 per cent of all allergies, and to ban peanuts — but not eggs or dairy — doesn't make sense, according to her.

Another problem is there aren't province-wide standards that all schools employ.

"What we would like to see instead of bans is a general organization around food allergies," she said.

That means having an emergency plan, training staff and students and others on how to spot an allergic reaction, how to treat it in time and other preventative measures like washing hands.

It's also about teaching those with allergies how to protect themselves — something Cafaro is doing before her daughter starts school.

"A lot of it is teaching her in an age-appropriate way what she needs to do on her end to keep herself safe," she said.

Allergy Quebec has created a protocol that it hopes the government will put into place in all schools.

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