In many ways, summer camp is a right of passage for children. Whether it's attending band or athletic camps on college campuses, or spending warm summer days by a lake, the camaraderie and memories children experience at camp can last a lifetime. But for the parents of children with food allergies, the idea of summer camp can induce panic and with good reason.
Food allergies have increased over the past two decades and currently affect 5 to 8 percent of all children. There is no safe amount of food that children with food allergies can consume, and even trace amounts can cause an allergic reaction. Food allergy reactions occur rapidly, usually within minutes or one to two hours after ingestion, and can include hives, swelling, difficulty breathing/swallowing, vomiting, passing out and in rare cases, death.
With children off to camp, out of sight and often far away, parents understandably worry about the diligence of the staff and camp counselors. Management of food allergies entails strict avoidance of the food and accessibility to an epinephrine autoinjector in case of accidental ingestion causing a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis. Every meal or snack represents a potential exposure to a food allergen.
To prevent accidental ingestion, labels of packaged foods must be read every time, food handlers need to be aware of safe preparation practices and avoid shared utensils or equipment, and children need to always ask if a food is safe before eating it, even while at a friend's house or grandma's. Unfortunately, accidental ingestions occur, so children with food allergies need to have immediate access to medications, especially epinephrine autoinjectors, to promptly treat any reaction. All caregivers, including school personnel, babysitters and family members, need to be versed in the recognition and treatment of an allergic reaction.