Everyday allergy moms around the world balance their children's need for safety with their need for a "normal" life. For most of us, summer camp was part of that normal life, and while you might think of camp as "Mission Impossible" for your food allergic child, it really boils down to just a few steps. So here is my CAMP guide to help you prepare your child for the fun this summer.
C Communicate with the Camp Director Explain the extent of your child's allergies and make sure they are willing and able to accommodate your child's special needs. Do they have safe foods or meal options? How is food stored, prepared and served? What is their experience with severe food allergies?
Find out if the staff is trained to handle allergic reactions; how far the nearest medical facility is; how your child would be transported; and if any activities would take him or her out of cell phone coverage or far away from the camp site. Remember that camp counselors are often teenagers who may not fully appreciate the dangers of food allergies so make sure that your child would always be in the company of a trained adult, especially when in a remote location.
Before camp begins, review your child's Food Allergy Action Plan and discuss who will carry your child's medications. If possible, have a food allergy savvy friend go with your child. Friends can often spot a dangerous situation or reaction and can speak up for their friend if he or she is unwilling or unable.
A Adults in contact with your child should be trained on avoiding, recognizing and treating allergic reactions. Even if your child carries his own epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-Pen or Twinject), a trained adult should be available to administer medications at all times.
Talk with your child ahead of time and make sure that he/she will inform the counselors if experiencing even a mild allergic reaction. Remind him or her not to eat anything without checking ingredients or without prior approval.
M Menus, meals and snacks must be carefully planned. Counselors should know not to feed your child any food, snack or treat that has not been approved by you. Explain that one should never rely on "common sense" to determine safely of a food. Allergenic ingredients show up in unexpected places. Peanut flour has been used in chili, marshmallows and lollipops can contain egg, maraschino cherries can contain almond and many common foods are cross contaminated when they are processed on lines with nuts or peanuts. Review the entire menu in detail and make sure that the cook is fully trained on preparing foods without cross contamination. Remind your child to read labels every time and "When in doubt, do without."
Even those who serve food need to be trained on preventing cross-contamination. And all campers need to be instructed not to share or trade food. If possible, find ways for your child to be included in safe snacks and meals, not isolated and kept away from the bunch. Camp is so much more fun when every child has a seat at the table!