We asked a food allergy expert how to make sure your little one is staying safe at summer camp.

By Betty Gold
Updated June 21, 2019
Credit: Getty Images

Sleepaway camp is a rite of passage for many children: it's an away-from-home adventure that enables kids of a certain age to bond with friends (and make new ones), learn wilderness skills, and spend endless hours outside. If your child has food allergies, however, you may be feeling a little anxious about keeping them safe. Be prepared (and feel more at ease) with these tips from Lisa Gable, the CEO of FARE, for her top tips.

Ask the right questions when choosing a camp

As you research which camp is right for your child, Gable recommends writing the below questions down to make sure you get answers to every one:

  • Does the camp have a food allergy policy or guidelines for managing food allergies?
  • Who prepares and serves food for campers? Have they been trained to avoid allergens and cross contact?
  • Which staff members respond to an allergic reaction? How are they trained? How often?
  • How are emergencies handled at camp and during offsite activities? Who is trained to administer medication?
  • How far is the camp from a medical treatment center?

Tell the camp staff about your child’s allergies ASAP

Inform the camp director of your child’s allergy early in the process to discuss how the camp can meet your child’s needs. This will give them time to hire appropriate personnel or train staff on the proper approach to caring for your child.Gable alsorecommends providing your camp with a letter from your child’s physician, a detailed list of your child’s food allergies, and use the FARE Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Emergency Care Plan to outline treatment for an allergic reaction.

Gather as much information as possible

According to Gable, parents should inquire about the camp’s processes and protocols for common (but often overlooked) situations that may trigger a food allergy issue:

  • Seek out information on each step of your camp’s food production, from purchasing and label reading to storage, preparation, serving and leftovers.
  • Ask about the likelihood of food exposures through crafts and play materials.
  • Find out how care packages are handled and if allergens are allowed in cabins.
  • Be sure they hold staff trainings to recognize and respond to anaphylaxis and follow a child’s Emergency Action Plan.
  • Ascertain what your camp’s procedures are for carrying, storing and using epinephrine.
  • Inquire about the availability of adult supervisors during daytime and nighttime hours.
  • Make sure the camp has easy access to emergency services, including whether local first responders carry epinephrine.

Make personal contact with the director before your child arrives at the facility

Make sure the camp director notifies all staff who will be responsible for your child. Anyone who may offer food or plan events needs to be aware of their allergy. This can include lifeguards, transportation drivers, dining hall and cafeteria workers, camp nurses, counselors and specialty area workers.

Remember that camps may use volunteers who only come to camp one or two days during the week. These individuals will also need to understand your child’s needs and the camp’s food allergy policy.

Educate your camper on how to self-manage his or her food allergy ahead of time

Depending on their age, here’s what your child should know:

  • Safe and unsafe foods.
  • Ways to avoid exposure to unsafe foods.
  • Symptoms of allergic reactions.
  • How and when to tell an adult about a possible allergic reaction
  • How to read a food label (e.g., at the camp candy store), if age appropriate. For young campers, plan with camp how to handle this.
  • How to use epinephrine.