ATLANTA — The federal government is issuing its first guidelines to schools on how to protect children with food allergies.
The voluntary guidelines call on schools to take such steps as restricting nuts, shellfish, or other foods that can cause allergic reactions, and make sure emergency allergy medicine — such as EpiPens — are available.
About 15 states — and numerous individual schools or school districts — already have policies. ‘‘The need is here’’ for a more comprehensive, standardized way for schools to deal with this issue, said Dr. Wayne Giles, who oversaw development for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Food allergies are a growing concern. A recent CDC survey estimated that about 1 in 20 US children have food allergies — a 50 percent increase from the late 1990s. Experts are not sure why cases are rising.
Many food allergies are mild and something children grow out of. But severe cases may cause anaphylactic shock or even death from eating, say, a peanut.
The guidelines released Wednesday were required by a 2011 federal law.
Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, and shellfish are among the foods that most often most trigger reactions. But experts say more than 170 foods are known to cause reactions.
The new advice call for schools to do such things as:
■ Identify children with food allergies.
■ Have a plan to prevent exposures and manage any reactions.
■ Train teachers or others how to use medicines like epinephrine injectors, or have medical staff to do the job.
■ Plan parties or field trips free of foods that might cause a reaction and designate someone to carry epinephrine.
■ Make sure classroom activities are inclusive.
For example, do not use Peanut M&M’s in a counting lesson, said John Lehr, chief executive of a group that worked on the guidelines, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE).
Carolyn Duff, president of the National Association of School Nurses, which worked on the guidelines, said many schools may not have policies on food allergies. ‘‘And if they do, maybe the policies aren’t really comprehensive,’’ she said.