Food Allergies? Avoid These 8 Summer Camp Mistakes

Summer CampSoccer camp, lacrosse camp, religious camp, basketball camp, robotics camp, nature camp, day camp and overnight camp.  Over the past 13 years, my food-allergic sons have attended their fair share (and more!) of summer camps.

Although it can be nerve wracking to send your food-allergic child to summer camp, it is possible for them to have a fun and safe experience and for you to be a relatively “happy camper” as well.

Here are 8 mistakes to avoid:

Mistake #1: Checking the availability of medications the night before camp. 

  1. Review medication expiration date days/weeks prior to camp.
  2. Make sure you have sufficient amounts of all medications.
  3. Check to see if the camp requires medications in original containers.

Mistake #2: Informing the camp director about your child’s food allergy for the first time on the first day of camp.

  1. Speak with the camp director and/or nurse before you register your child.
  2. At this time, ask if there are any special documents you will need to provide.
  3. Remind the director, nurse and counselor about your child’s food allergy at the start of camp.
  4. Ensure these individuals know how to administer your child’s epinephrine auto-injector (EpiPen, Auvi-Q, etc.).  Consider bringing a trainer to demonstrate proper administration.

Mistake #3: Assuming that food provided to your child will be safe. 

  1. If your child will eat food provided by the camp, make sure you review the menu and ingredients.
  2. Speak with the person in charge of food purchasing and preparation and alert him/her to your child’s dietary restrictions.
  3. Ask if food will be brought in from the outside on special occasions and, if so, ask about ingredients.

Mistake #4:  Assuming that staff will carry medications on field trips.

  1. Make sure that staff will carry necessary medications on near and far excursions, such as the local pool.
  2.  Ensure that the counselor accompanying your child knows how and when to administer medication.
  3. Remind staff to keep medication on their person and not in a hot car/bus.  If the field trip will take place outdoors, suggest that staff carry the medication in a small cooler.

Mistake #5: Having only one dose of epinephrine at the camp office.  (This is actually two mistakes.)

  1. Always have at least 2 doses of epinephrine.  Some individuals suffering an allergic reaction may require more than one dose of epinephrine.  Also, if a mistake is made by the person administering the medication, a 2nd dose will be a lifesaving backup for your child.
  2. Medication should be kept in close proximity to your child, possibly with their counselor, and not in a central office removed from your child.
  3. If the camp permits, you may choose to have your child carry his/her own medication.

Mistake #6:  Asking for required medication forms the first day of camp.

  1. Inquire about state medication administration forms at registration.
  2. Drop off necessary forms at your child’s physician’s office weeks before camp to allow time for the forms to be completed and mailed.
  3. Provide the camp director with your child’s Food Allergy Action Plan, photo of your child, and Asthma Action Plan, if applicable.

Mistake #7: Failing to discuss safety details and expectations with your child.

  1. Remind your child not to share or trade food and only eat what you have approved.
  2. Discuss steps to take if he/she feels ill or thinks he is having a reaction.
  3. Review how to administer an epinephrine auto-injector, if age appropriate.

Mistake #8: Expecting every camp to have a full-time nurse.

  1.  Some camps have full-time nurses, but many others have only part- time nurses or no nurses at all.
  2. Ask about food allergy training and make sure your child’s camp has staff appointed to handle emergencies and administer epinephrine.
  3. Ask about food allergy emergency protocol.


Avoid these mistakes and you will be in better shape to provide a safe and fun camp experience for both you and your child.

What about you? Do you have any other mistakes to avoid when sending your child to summer camp?   Tell us in the comments.



Supporting the Food Allergy Circle

P.S.  Each year, there’s an increasing number of specialty camps with an allergy friendly focus which are free of common allergens that may be more suitable for your family.


Donna DeCosta, MD ( @foodallermomdoc ) is founder of FoodAllergyMomDoc an online community dedicated to supporting the Food Allergy Circle with tips, ideas and resources and author of A Little Bit CAN Hurt: The Shocking Truth about Food Allergies — Why We Should Care, What We Can Do.

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