Researching summer camp options can be daunting when your child has food allergies. To make things a little easier, use this cheat sheet of seven questions about how food allergies are managed at camp.
Like school, a good camp experience for your child depends on open lines of communication between parents and camp personnel. Be sure to talk to camp staff about your child's needs well in advance of the beginning of camp.
1. Does the camp have a food allergy management plan in place?
If not, it should. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) and the Association of Camp Nurses have created a downloadable guide for families and camp personnel about food allergy safety at camp. The guide can be used to create the food allergy management plan for a camp that does not yet have one.
2. Is there a nurse or EMT on site?
Most camps have a camp nurse or other medical personnel on site. In addition to being available for emergencies, the camp nurse often provides health education to camp staff and campers, and may be involved in setting camp food allergy management policies.
Talk to the camp nurse about your child's allergies and any potential arenas for a reaction, such as arts and crafts and lunch time. Together with the nurse, discuss how to make these times safe for your child.
3. How far is the camp from the nearest emergency room?
If your child does have a severe allergic reaction at camp, it is important that she first be given epinephrine, and then taken to the hospital as quickly as possible for monitoring. Some anaphylactic reactions re-occur after 2 or 3 hours (called a biphasic reaction) and will need further medication. A camp that involves deep wilderness trekking that takes your child out of reach of emergency medical care may not be the best option.
4. Who is trained to administer epinephrine?
All adults who will be responsible for your child during their stay at camp should be trained to administer an epinephrine auto-injector. This includes your child’s counselors, swim instructors, bus drivers, dining hall workers, or any other adults that will be primarily responsible for your child while they are away from you.
5. Where will the epinephrine be kept?
Children who are old enough and responsible enough to carry their own epinephrine auto-injectors should do so. If your child is too young to carry his own auto-injector, the best place is for it to follow your child around as he moves from activity to activity. Epinephrine kept locked up in a nurses’ office is the least desirable option, although it may be required in some states.
6. What will your child eat?
Many campers choose to bring their own food with them to camp. If your child is attending day camp, this is as simple as packing a school lunch.
Sleep-away camp is a little more complex. You will need to talk to the director of the camp kitchen about where your child’s food will be stored and how it will be prepared to minimize the risk of cross-contamination.
More and more camps, like more and more schools, are going peanut-free. Some camps are offering gluten-free or dairy-free menus as well. If you are interested in a particular camp, call the camp director well in advance (spring is a great time to do this) and talk about the options available for your child. Chances are that the camp has had campers with food allergies before, and a one-on-one conversation will allow you to evaluate how flexible the camp will be in accommodating your child.
If you decide to allow your child to eat food prepared at camp, talk to the camp chef or dining manager before camp begins. Provide a list of your child’s allergens and a copy of your emergency management plan to the camp.
7. What happens on field trips?
If campers leave camp property, camp policies should clearly delegate responsibility for managing camper food allergies. Food should not be allowed in vehicles. Campers or counselors should carry emergency medicine and a cell phone should be available.