Managing food allergies at camp
By Barbara Rosenstein, Director of Communications and Jennifer Jobrack, Midwest Director, Food Allergy Initiative

You probably never had a friend with food allergies when you went to camp, but chances are you’re coping with this issue as a camp administrator. That’s because food allergies are a large and growing public health problem. They affect more than 15 million Americans, including an astonishing 5.9 million children—two in every classroom. What’s more, nearly 40 percent of these children have a severe or life-threatening food allergy, and more than 30 percent are allergic to multiple foods.

The most common allergens are peanuts, tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.), eggs, cow’s milk, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat, although a person can be allergic to any food. While there is no cure for food allergies, researchers are trying to understand why they are increasing, and they continue to develop new therapies that would prevent life-threatening reactions. Until they do, strict avoidance of problem foods is the only way for people with food allergies to stay safe.

For some people, even a trace amount of the wrong food can trigger anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal reaction. Once a severe reaction has begun, only an emergency injection of epinephrine can control it. That’s why food-allergic campers must strictly avoid problem ingredients—and why food allergy training is crucial for camp personnel. Here are some helpful tips and resources.

The camper’s family should:

  • Notify the camping director of the child’s allergy(ies), providing detailed medical information well in advance so the camp can establish an effective food allergy action plan.
  • Provide appropriate authorizations and instructions for managing the allergy(ies).
The camper should:

  • Never trade food with other campers or eat anything with unknown ingredients.
  • Read every label and check with a counselor if they have any questions (depending on his/her age).
  • Never go off alone if he/she is experiencing symptoms, and always seek help immediately if a reaction seems to be starting.
The camp should:

  • Establish prevention protocols, like discussing appropriate meal plans and educating food service kitchen staff.
  • Establish an emergency response team.
  • Know how to contact emergency services, how much time it will take for an ambulance to arrive, and how far it is to the nearest hospital.
  • Make sure a communication device, such as a cell phone or two-way radio, is always available in case of emergency.
  • Train appropriate personnel to use an epinephrine auto-injector, make sure they know where the medication is located, and how to store it appropriately at camp and on field trips.
  • Review the health records provided by the camper’s family and physician while maintaining a sense of confidentiality and respect for the child’s privacy.
  • Make sure all camp personnel know of the child’s allergy, can recognize the symptoms of a reaction, and know how to respond.
  • Make sure that a food allergic camper’s medicine and medical documents are part of an emergency evacuation kit and always accompany the camper when he/she is off site.
For detailed information about how to manage food allergies and prevent anaphylactic reactions, please check out these helpful resources:

  • The Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) – faiusa.org
  • The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) – foodallergy.org
  • How to C.A.R.E. for Children with Food Allergies – Although designed for educators by food allergy organizations, this free online tutorial, available at allergyready.com, is a detailed, easy-to-use interactive tool that provides valuable information for camp staff as well.

The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as all encompassing, or suitable for all situations, conditions, and environments. Please contact us or your attorney if you have any questions.

For safety or risk management questions or suggestions, please contact Markel.

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