Hamilton wants to be the first city in Canada to have auto-injectors, also known as Epipens, for children with allergies at every food outlet.

The city's board of health voted Thursday to investigate a widespread strategy for epinephrine auto-injectors (EAIs), also known by the brand name Epipen, at "every food service outlet in Hamilton."

Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton's Medical Officer of Health, will join forces with McMaster University researcher Dr. Susan Waserman to look into the feasibility. The motion came in response to the recent death of a 12-year-old girl at a Burlington food court from a food allergy.

"It's not going to be an easy process, but we do it with defibrillators now," said Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, who moved the motion. Ferguson is a member of the Rotary Club of Ancaster A.M., which is spearheading the project. "It took 40 years, but defibrillators are far more complicated."

Ferguson envisions Rotary Clubs and boards of health across Canada eventually having EAIs at food courts, snack bars and restaurants. It would require training food service staff to use the EAIs, and the kits being maintained and monitored in every facility.

Richardson's report will also look at potential costs of the program.

About seven per cent of children have food allergies, said Waserman, director at McMaster's Adverse Reactions Clinic and president of the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. And that number is growing.

There are several theories as to why that is, including the "hygiene hypothesis" - that we are living so cleanly that our immune systems are more susceptible to allergies.

Other theories range from "air pollution to vitamin D to traffic to cigarette smoke," she said. "At the end of the day, these are very complex issues but they're the subject of study. We don't have all of the information."

Waserman thinks the program is a good idea.

"It's obviously a very big initiative, and it's extremely important," she said.

It would have to start as a smaller scale pilot project, she said, but she also sees it as being similar to defibrillators.

"It's an idea with merit that's going to be looked at."

Laurie Harada, executive director of Anaphylaxis Canada, says the board of health move is forward thinking. But it should come with some widespread education piece.

Allergic reactions can happen up to two hours after someone has been exposed to the allergen, Harada said. And although children with allergies should carry EAIs themselves, most of them don't.

"A reaction can happen anywhere at any time," said Harada, the mother of a child with multiple food allergies. "it's not a black and white answer."

But "It sounds like there is some thought going into this, which is great."

Waserman and Richardson aim to report back in the fall.