Writing about food allergies from a pediatric allergist's perspective

Food Allergy and Camp: Questions to Ask

AllergyHome is excited to introduce our next guest contributor, Linda E. Erceg, RN, MS, PHN.  Ms. Erceg is a champion in camp health and camp nursing, and is director of the Association of Camp Nurses. Please join us in welcoming Linda Erceg.

“The goal is to match what your child needs with the camp’s capacity to meet those needs and to build a partnership between you and the camp.”

Know what your child needs when your child has a food allergy

When children have food allergies, the quest to find the right camp starts with a parent taking time to clarify the child’s needs.  Before even talking with a camp representative, understand the steps necessary to prevent allergic reactions and to prepare for allergic emergencies.  Know the specific allergies, know your child’s food allergy emergency care plan.  Also, consider your child’s ability to self-advocate as well as the child’s ability to both identify when s/he is experiencing a reaction and the child’s ability to initiate help. Consider discussing  this issue with your healthcare provider for additional guidance.

Match the needs of your child with a food allergy with the camp’s capacity to meet those needs

Once you understand your child’s basic food allergy needs and the scope of your child’s coping strategies, then it’s time to talk with a camp representative.  The goal is to match what your child needs with the camp’s capacity to meet those needs and to build a partnership between you and the camp.  Call a camp that interests you and ask to speak to the person who can answer questions about the camp’s plan for dealing with food allergies.

Questions to ask when your child has a food allergy

What information do you want about my child’s food allergy and how do I submit that information?

  • I strongly recommend that parents provide the camp with written information.  One sign of a prepared camp is that the camp has a form for parents to complete about their child’s food allergy profile.
  • Camps may ask that the child be able to recognize when something is wrong and that the child tells a staff member.

What do you – the camp – expect my child to be able to do regarding his/her food allergy?

How is the camp’s food service staff told about a child’s allergy?  Who oversees their training on this topic and who monitors for compliance once camp is in session?

When something is served to which my child is allergic, how will my child know and/or be told?  How does that procedure change on a field trip or for snacks at the campfire or when a cabin mate might share a birthday treat? What’s provided when my child can’t have what others are eating?

Explain what happens should my child walk up to a counselor and say, “My throat is itchy” or “I’m having a reaction.”  What training do all staff get about food allergies and what is their response with a threatened and/or established reaction?

Does the camp have epinephrine on hand?  Will my child be expected to carry his/her own epinephrine device?  Who teaches your staff how to use epinephrine devices?  How often does this training happen?

What is the credential of the healthcare provider who is at camp?  Who takes over when that person isn’t there?

How long does it take for 911 to respond when called?

The answer to questions like these allow you, as the parent, to determine your comfort with the camp’s response.  Keep in mind that different camps have different capacities.  For example, a day camp serving campers as young as four-years old will have different standard operating practices than a tripping camp for teens.  Also keep in mind that a camp located a couple blocks from a hospital’s emergency department may have a different level of concern than the remote wilderness camp at altitude. Consider discussing with your healthcare provider to guide your decision and further planning.

The bottom line is that you must be comfortable with the camp’s capacity to respond to your child’s needs.  Not every camp will be a good “fit” for kids with various allergies – but some are!   Take the time to find out.

For more information on food allergy management for the camper with food allergies see:

Summer Camp Planning for the Camper with Food Allergies: This blog post includes more tips on picking a camp for a child with a food allergy.

Food Allergy in Camp; What Staff Needs to Know: This training module was modified in consultation with the American Camp Association and the Association of Camp Nurses. It reviews key principles in food allergy management for the camper with food allergies. With increased awareness, staff will be better equipped to deal with food allergies, keeping campers with food allergies safe.


Linda E. Erceg, RN, MS, PHNLinda E. Erceg, RN, MS, PHN, is executive director of the Association of Camp Nurses and a year-round camp nurse for Concordia Language Villages, Bemidji, MN.  Her many moons of camp work are supported by various degrees in health, psychology, physical education and nursing, and informed by her connection with the camp health community at regional, national and international levels.  Linda writes, presents and researches topics associated with camp health and camp nursing.  Her most recent work is with the Healthy Camps study and collaboration projects but her long-standing work with campers with various allergies contributed to the information provided here.

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