Food is a common theme associated with many church activities. Whether it is in a child care setting, such as Sunday school and mothers’ days out, or church-wide meals, such as potlucks and Wednesday night suppers, food provides wonderful fellowship opportunities. However, food events can pose a threat to those with a food allergy. According to Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), food allergies affect up to 15 million people in the United States. The National Center for Health Statistics indicates four out of every 100 children have a food allergy, and the prevalence is increasing. To help protect the members of your church, it is important to be educated on the subject and take measures in preventing allergic reactions.
Allergic reaction symptoms can range from mild to severe. Some symptoms can lead to the life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis, which can affect a person’s breathing and blood circulation. While some signs may appear within a few minutes of eating an allergen, others could become evident hours later. When serving food during an event, ask staff and volunteers to be aware and watch for allergic reaction symptoms.
- Mild symptoms include:
- Redness of skin around the eyes;
- Itchy mouth or ear canal; and
- Vomiting, diarrhea or stomach pain.
- Severe symptoms include:
- Swelling of lips, tongue or throat that results in the obstruction of an airway;
- Shortness of breath;
- Drop in blood pressure (feeling faint, confused, weak);
- Weak or “thread” pulse; and
- Loss of consciousness.
Responding to an Allergic Reactions
Depending on the severity of an allergic reaction, there are various treatments to utilize when responding in an emergency. If an individual is experiencing itching or hives, over-the-counter or prescribed antihistamines may help reduce such symptoms. Individuals with food allergies are often prescribed an epinephrine autoinjector, also commonly known as an EpiPen, which may be used with a severe allergic reaction by the affected individual or by those who have been trained on their use. Severe cases also may require calling 911 and a trip to the emergency room.
Avoiding an Emergency Situation
It is important to keep in mind the severe allergic reactions that can occur when serving food in your church. In doing so, your church can adequately prepare for an allergic reaction emergency and take the necessary steps to prevent them from happening. The first step is to make sure your staff and volunteers are educated on the subject. With the amount of food allergy cases increasing, it is crucial to develop a plan to handle any situation and keep your members safe.