Food Allergies and Summer Camp

Food Allergies and Summer Camp
By Hilltown Families Guest Writer, Karen A. Jordan

Summer camp tip: Check EpiPen expiration dates, label each EpiPen with your child's name, and bring enough for each counselor and the nurse. (Photo credit: Stusic)

It’s that time of year again…the final countdown of school days, warmer weather, and plans for summer camp. As a parent with a child with a severe peanut allergy, I am quite familiar with the tension, nervousness, and tremendous preparation that come with preparing for summer camp.

Last year my daughter, who was 9 at the time, spent her first week at sleep away camp. The preparation began as soon as I registered her. I called and spoke with the camp director and food service director to talk about food options and ways to keep her safe. The drop off day for summer camp was crazy, to say the least. Lines of parents and children, talking to counselors that were young (according to my standards!). First up: cabin assignment. Walked over to her cabin and met with the counselor. She was a wonderful college-age girl who already had EpiPen training, but I reviewed with her the procedure. One EpiPen would stay with her, and one would stay with nurse. I went over with her the emergency action plan and the phone numbers to call if needed. Then off to the nurse’s station. Dropped off EpiPen with her along with another copy of the emergency action plan and phone numbers to call. Whew! I was emotionally and physically drained! Swim test, setting up her bunk and last goodbyes.

Some tips for parents who are sending their child to camp, whether it be day camp or overnight camp:

  • Check EpiPen expiration dates and make sure child’s name is labeled on each EpiPen, since the contents of a two-pack may be split up. And make sure you bring enough – find out how many counselors there will be, so each one can carry one, as cabin may be split up into smaller groups. And don’t forget the nurse! And, it may be wise if your child is old enough, to have him/her carry their own EpiPen with them from activity to activity.
  • Send in a hearty supply of “safe” snacks for camp store times. Even if some of the food there is safe for him/her to eat, it may be a bit hectic during these times, making it confusing for label reading. Also, there are the issues of children opening their snacks right in front of your child, immediately exposing them to allergens.
  • Dining Hall: Label reading is a must! One person in kitchen should be responsible for reading labels on the food and help make safe meals for your child. I had met with food service director the week before camp and went over menu with him to help reduce exposure to peanut products. We read labels on all products and determined what foods would be safe for her. We also followed the same plan as her school, where her table would be a peanut free table and no peanut butter would be served in the kitchen.
  • Reminded your child that she needs to read labels, wash her hands frequently, and to not eat food if she doesn’t know the ingredients.

The staff at these camps are all willing to work with you to help make your child’s visit to the camp a safe, happy experience. The best advice is to plan ahead as much as possible and to make sure that you have your cell phone with you at all times in case of an emergency or even if the staff has a question for you. I can’t tell you how many times I have received a call and my heart has skipped a beat to soon find out that they just wanted to read a label to me over the phone!

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Karen Schneyer Jordan

Karen lives in Lenox Dale, MA with her two children, Katie, age 10, and Christopher, age 6. She has severe allergies to several foods, including tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.  Her daughter is allergic to peanuts. Her son was allergic to soy for 2 years and eventually outgrew it.  Karen started finding out more about food allergies when her daughter, who was two at the time, had her first anaphylactic reaction. Years of research and networking, as well as utilizing skills learned during her work experience in human resources and employee training, led Karen to branch out on her own as Berkshire Food Allergy Consulting Services. Now she spend most of her time working on training and development as well as support for those living with food allergies.

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