By Kelley Lindberg
In a few weeks, my son will be finishing ninth grade. For his class, it’s not just the end of the school year, but it’s also the end of junior high, and the end of being the “big guys/gals on campus.”
To end the year in style, the school has filled the next few weeks with activities, including an evening program during the last week, at which there will be food.
My son’s best bud since babyhood also has food allergies, and the two of them have been in the same school together since kindergarten. They’ve shared the food allergy table for ten years, they’ve watched out for each other, and they’ve weathered the same food-allergy issues in their classes. The friend’s mom, Kim, is also one of my best friends, and together Kim and I have chaperoned every field trip and party, bought treats for every dance, found safe substitutes for every food-based art project you can think of, and supported each other through thick and thin.
Now we have one more food-oriented school event to get through together.
So Kim and I find ourselves taking the state food handler’s permit test this week. It’s not the first time, either. Back when the boys were in third grade, there was a big school event where we had to cook paella and gazpacho for 300 people. So that year we dutifully volunteered to help make the food so that we could ensure it was safe for our food-allergic boys, which meant we had to get our food handler’s permits. But the permits only last for 3 years, so now we need to get a permit once more.
So I took the course and test online last night, and I was surprised to find that the course for a Utah food handler’s permit has a big change from the last time we took the test 6 years ago. Now there is an entire section of the course devoted to explaining the seriousness of food allergies!
I was thrilled to see that they spent so much time explaining the symptoms, describing how to avoid cross-contamination, explaining that contact with allergens can be fatal, and even warning servers and cooks that customers who have food allergy reactions in their restaurant may not even be aware they have allergies until that first reaction.
While including food allergy information in the food handler’s permit course doesn’t make every cook and server an expert on food allergies (face it, even those of us living with food allergies feel like we learn new things about them every day), it at least ensures that they’ve been exposed to the idea. That’s a significant jump from six years ago, when I don’t recall anything about food allergies in that course at all!
So I’m sending a big shout-out to the state of Utah for recognizing that food handlers are an important first line of defense for those of us in the community with food allergies. Thank you!
(And in case you’re waiting in suspense, wondering how it all turned out… Yes, I did pass the test. I’ll even show you the certificate sometime if you want to see it!)