An elementary school’s peanut butter drive to benefit the Society of St. Vincent de Paul serving Windsor, Ont., and Essex County has been cancelled after parents of children allergic to the product said it was too risky.
Sacred Heart Catholic elementary school in LaSalle, west of Windsor, originally asked the society which food item was in particular demand this holiday season, and was told peanut butter.
Peanut butter and canned meats are staples at food banks because they’re high in protein and have a long shelf life.
The drive started Nov. 25 and ran for five school days. The school collected 200 jars of the spread. The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board said the peanut butter was kept in a separate area.
News of the cancellation just came to light this week.
Board superintendent Sherrilynn Colley-Vegh said the food drive was in line with rules and regulations.
Colley-Vegh said the school is labelled as a peanut aware school. That means peanuts can be brought in to the school. Peanut free schools, though, have zero tolerance.
"It was all according to policy, but the principal decided because of the parent's concerns, that she would shut it down,” Colley-Vegh said.
Pamela Baksi, president of the Windsor chapter of the society, said she was told to pick up the peanut butter "immediately." She found the peanut butter was stored in the principal's office.
However, a dietitian with the Windsor-Essex Health Unit said new jars of peanut butter pose a "low risk" for people with peanut allergies.
"There's never zero per cent chance of risk," said Tara Galloro.
That's because the product is "sealed in its original package and most packages are sterilized at the processing plant," Galloro said.
However, the National Peanut Board disagrees.
"There is no risk with sealed peanut butter jars and really no risk even if peanut butter was present. In fact, allergic individuals would have to ingest the peanut butter to have a severe allergic reaction," board spokesperson Gana Ahn said in an email.
Principal Zina Vivier then apologized for the idea in a letter sent home with all the students. She promised the event wouldn’t be held again.
Baksi picked up the peanut butter on Dec. 2. A spokesperson said the drive was “well-intentioned” and that she was surprised by the generosity. The school collected enough peanut butter to fill a car.
“Thanks to all the families who so generously donated to this worthy cause. A jar of peanut butter and bread goes a long way for a family,” a posting on the school’s website says.
“Please be aware that we are still a peanut free school and refrain from sending in items that contain nuts or peanuts,” the post adds.
Despite the low risk, Galloro said reactions as serious as anaphylactic shock can happen even with little contact.
"Even something as minor as the smell of nuts," she said.
Ahn said Galloro's claim that little contact and even " the smell of nuts" can lead to anaphylactic shock "is incorrect."
The National Peanut Board is a farmer-funded research and promotion board.