6 Essentials for Surviving Summer Camp with Food Allergies

What you and your child need to know

Summer camp and food allergies CAN go together!. National Infantry Museum Soldier Center

Summer camp presents some unique concerns (and fear!) for parents with food allergic children as they consider sending their child away to summer camp.  Summer camp is as American as baseball and apple pie. Every summer, more than 11 million kids flock to summer camp, some for day camp and others for overnight camp.

First and foremost, you’ll want to prepare the staff for your food allergic camper.

Talk to them about your child’s food allergies and be specific about how you manage his allergies at home. The goal is to have continuity and a safe environment for your child.

If your child has a food allergy, there are 6 essentials you need to address that can affect the health and safety of your camper.

Learn More about the Staff

Essential #1: The supervising staff often consists of high school or college students, which means they may be young and inexperienced with food allergy. You’ll want to find out about their training and preparation for any medical emergency, but especially how to handle a food allergic episode and anaphylaxis.

Here's what you can ask:

  • How will my child be identified at camp? 
  • Are dining hall cooks/managers trained to treat food allergic reaction?
  • Can counselors inject epinephrine?
  • How much training for life threatening allergic reactions do counselors receive?
  • Is there more than one place where emergency medications are kept?
  • How is outside food handled (ie, care packages)?
  • How are visits to the camp store (which may have candy for purchase) handled?

Learn How the Camp Will Handle Allergies Off-Site

Essential #2: Campers often hike and participate in other activities, which may bring your child into a remote area.  You will want to know how the camp will handle your child’s food allergy in this situation.

Here's what you can ask:

  • What is the food policy for off-sight hikes and day-trips?
  • Who will manage your child’s medications in the instance of leaving the campsite?

Learn How the Camp Handles Meal Prep

Essential #3: If your child is in either day camp or overnight camp, he or she will rely on meals from camp. Day campers will have lunch and snacks, and overnight campers will eat all meals and snacks at camp. It is essential to understand how prepared and knowledgeable the food service staff is prepared to handle food allergies, from allergen knowledge to cross-contamination.

Here's what you can ask:

  • Does the camp serve the top 8 allergens?
  • Are food allergen alternatives offered, such as milk alternatives?
  • What measures are taken to protect against cross-contamination?
  • Is there an allergen-free area for your child to eat?
  • Are you allowed to bring your own snacks or other food?

Check in with the Camp's Nurse or Doctor

Essential #4: The nurse or medical doctor at camp should be alerted to your child’s allergies. He or she will be the touchstone for keeping your child safe at camp. Make sure your child’s medications, especially epinephrine, are labeled and are up to date.

Here's what you can ask:

  • Where will medications be kept?
  • Are they easily accessible to medical staff or counselors?
  • What is the closest hospital?

While all this may be scary, in addition to talking with the camp, there are ways you can prepare your child for camp, and ease the fear of sending him away:

Educate your Child

Essential #5: Educate your child about his food allergy, or if he is well-versed in managing it, review the important topics before he leaves. He should know:

  • Safe and unsafe foods;
  • Strategies for avoiding exposure to unsafe foods;
  • Symptoms of allergic reactions;
  • How and when to tell an adult about a possible allergic response;
  • How to read a food label (e.g. at the camp candy store), if age appropriate.
  • How to use epinephrine.

Warn Your Child about Potential Dangers

Essential #6: Warn your child to:

  • NEVER trade food with other campers.
  • Not eat anything with unknown or hidden ingredients.
  • Read every label and check with a counselor (if age appropriate).
  • Be proactive in the management of mild reactions, such as seeking help if a reaction is suspected.
  • Tell an adult if a reaction seems to be starting, even if there is no visible appearance of allergic response.
  • NOT go off alone if symptoms are beginning.

Heading to summer camp is a fun and enriching way for your child to enjoy all that summer has to offer. With these tips, you can keep your child safe from allergic reaction and maximize his summer fun. You can also find a listing of food allergy friendly camps here.




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