30 hours, packed lunches and food allergies – are you ready?

There multiple considerations to be aware of when it comes to the 30 hours free childcare scheme. One such consideration is managing lunch and snack times.

Will you be allowing children to bring a packed lunch? How do you manage allergies?

We have spoken to legal advisors and they suggest: Blanket bans for health and safety reasons run the risk of being labelled “health and safety gone mad”. An outright refusal to accept packed lunches without any consideration given to whether or not children at the nursery actually have an allergy may be seen as an overly risk-averse or business-motivated decision.
Really there are two risk-management options:

1. Prohibit Packed-lunches 

Given the potential for a poor reaction from the general media, social media and from the parents/guardians this would need to be justified by the risk you would need to consider:

  • Is there a child (or indeed a staff member) with a serious allergy to food items currently present at the nursery? If not it may be difficult to justify.
  • Is the risk to the child or staff member greater than the benefit of allowing parents to provide packed lunches? For example, if it’s a mild contact allergy to an obscure allergen then it is difficult to justify a ban on all packed lunches.


2. Follow a Risk-Based Approach 

This requires more effort to manage but allows flexibility for parents to provide packed lunches subject to controls while keeping the option to prohibit them if needed.

Nurseries should already have an Allergy Policy in place. Part of the Policy will include requesting notification from parents/guardians of any allergies during every child’s ‘on-boarding’ to the nursery or when an allergy develops during their attendance. If any allergies are flagged up, discuss with the parents and if necessary obtain further information via their medical practitioner. Some allergies may be triggered by ingestion only, other more extreme allergies are airway-reactive or triggered by direct contact or even particles in the air, so it would be useful to ascertain which is the case. This would then inform the response: is it proportionate to prohibit just the allergen in question (e.g. in the case of a mild allergy) or is the allergy so severe and/or the allergen so commonplace that it would be more proportionate to outright ban packed lunches.

Cross-contamination is definitely an issue but it can mostly be controlled by adequate adult supervision during meal times, ensuring that all food is cleared away and that the dining area is suitably cleaned once mealtime is over. For foods such as peanut butter where peanut oil residue is more difficult to clean up effectively, then a ban on packed lunches in that nursery group may well be the most practical option.

You should provide guidance to parents on appropriate items to include in lunch boxes in terms of both allergens and how lunches will be stored at the nursery, thereby negating issues with spoilage and food poisoning. You could also include an educational campaign on nutrition and other food safety risks e.g. choking hazards which would be useful for all parents, not just those sending packed lunches. The downside to this risk-managed approach is that nursery staff would probably need to check lunchboxes when opened to ensure that parents haven’t included any food or drink that has spoiled or not appropriate.

Of course, the decision should ultimately be based on the welfare of the children; if there is no strong reason for prohibiting packed lunches then there may be potential for friction with parents, media and local authorities.


Additional Reading:

Example ban statement 

Anaphylactic Shock in the news