Dear Food Allergy Concierge,
One of the parenting questions which has been bothering me for some time is, can my allergic son attend summer camp? My son is allergic dairy, gluten and tree nuts, including cross-contact. My friends’ children all attend day camp and some of the older ones are even going to sleepaway camp, but I am anxious just thinking about it. School is difficult enough! What’s your advice?
Our best advice is to trust your instincts. Just as you know when you go to a restaurant or hotel whether the staff really understands food allergies and is committed to keeping food safe from cross-contact, you can generally tell whether camps are properly set up to deal with food allergies. Start by interviewing the camp director head of food services and asking these questions:
- Do you have a written policy for dealing with allergies, including emergency procedures?
- Does staff have access to and know how to use epi pens?
- How will food be prepared for my allergic child?
- Do counselors, speciality staff, waiters etc. have training in food allergy awareness and emergency procedures?
- Have you previously had campers with food allergies? How did you accommodate them?
- How close is the nearest hospital/medical center?
In the United States, you can use the FARE list of allergy-friendly summer camps as a starting point. This list is obviously not comprehensive and it doesn’t come with any guarantees, but it will give you ideas of which camps in your area might be a good fit. You can also ask on allergy groups on Facebook or consult with your friends with allergic kids to get first-hand testimonials on which camps are most allergy-safe.
It’s no secret that lack of awareness is the biggest enemy of safety. If you have any hesitation about a particular camp, we recommend sending your child elsewhere. Whether it’s a day camp or a sleepaway camp, if your child is spending significant amounts of time there, you need to know that they are as safe as possible.
You didn’t say how old your son is, but it’s important to note that children 13 and over are at high-risk for anaphylaxis. This is because they are independent, like to be spontaneous and go with the flow, don’t want to appear different and are just getting into the world of dating, where kissing can be an issue. Your teen can’t suddenly become responsible for his food allergies overnight when he gets to camp. If he has been managing his allergies independently to some extent for a few years and has exhibited responsible behavior, camp should be an option.
If you have more questions or want us to speak directly to a camp, let us know and we will be happy to help.
Client Services Manager
Food Allergy Concierge