With an eye on the food allergy community as a unique group of consumers since 2008, we're on a quest to find and share ways to continue enjoying the good things in life.

01 October 2016

Food Allergy Folks You Should Know About: Food Allergy Mom Helps Keeps Campers Happy and Safe

I get tired just hearing about a day at camp when I chat with long time food allergy friend and fellow food allergy blogger, Harriet Spitzer-Picker. I really don't know how she does it--it sounds so complex and stressful! When I am enjoying some time off with my sons in the summer, she is hard at work at camp checking labels, cross-referencing every camper's allergies and restrictions for meals and snacks, talking to parents. You wouldn't believe all that goes on to keep so many children with so many food allergies safe and happy at camp every day during the summer months. And each child and each child's parents are different! I asked Harriet if she would consider sharing some of what she does during the summer months, since food allergies at camp is big topic in the food allergy community, especially once we are in the middle of the winter months and begin to dream of summer vacation. A big thank you goes out to Harriet for participating in a Q & A with Food Allergy Buzz!

Food Allergy Buzz: What was your job at camp?
Harriet: I was the camp allergy mom.

Food Allergy Buzz: Is the camp a "food allergy" camp or "nut-free" camp?
Harriet: My camp is not a food allergy camp. We are “nut aware”. We don't cook with nuts. We don't use products with nuts, But we can't guarantee that nuts won't be present somehow some way. Nothing is ever “free”.

Food Allergy Buzz: How many children at the camp?
Harriet: At the peak of the summer, we had over 700 campers.

Food Allergy Buzz: How many had food allergies?
Harriet: About 100, but I also had to care for kids with other diet needs such as kosher and diabetics.

Food Allergy Buzz: Did they all have Epi-pens?
Harriet: sadly no, they did not all have EPI Pens.

Food Allergy Buzz: What kind of information/documentation did you have about the children before camp began?
Harriet: All I had to go on was what parents put in the computer  system at registration.  About the week camp started I got more kids via medical forms. 
So a sample would look like
Name :   Soy, peanut eggs.
That's all the info. 

Food Allergy Buzz: Did you need to get additional info during camp?
Harriet: YES!!!!!  I had to call every parent. In many cases the allergies were sensitivities, as I always needs more info on things like soy. Can they have soy oil, other types of soy? Egg, baked egg? Milk. Is it a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance?  

Food Allergy Buzz: Tell us about a typical day--how many meals & snacks?
Harriet: on a typical day there is a dry snack in the morning. That would include: chips, pretzels, cookies...Then we had 6 lunches in 2 different locations. The dining room and the tent. Then, at the end of lunch, I had to get ready all afternoon for their ice cream or ices, depending on the day.

Food Allergy Buzz: What did that involve?
Harriet: For AM snacks, those were packed up for each group.  I then supplied all the alternative snacks also. Like gluten free pretzels , gluten free cookies.

For lunches, I made labels for each special plate that had name, time and location of lunch, and allergen or special diet. I would then work with the chef each morning and we would go through the list of kids in each lunch period, and I would be with him as he plated it.

We then put them in the right locations.

For the cold snack, I would supply both the regular snack and then I would also supply the alternative cold snack for those who couldn't have the daily selection. 

Food Allergy Buzz: Did campers bring food from home or was all food provided by the camp?
Harriet: We tried very hard to not allow outside food. In a very few circumstances some campers were allowed to bring it in.  It still must be nut free.

Food Allergy Buzz: What was the most difficult incident?
Harriet: There were many!  When items ordered came in and were swapped out by the distributor, and they were not the ones I had approved previously. It was hard because I then had to scramble and approve or substitute the item. Most of the time, in just minutes! 

Food Allergy Buzz: Did any major allergic reactions occur at camp?
Harriet: NO! None!

Food Allergy Buzz: What kind of feedback did you receive from parents?
Harriet: All the parents were greatly appreciative that I was there.  I would text them, call them if I ever had a question. Anything new, I would send text of labels and ask for their approval.

Many of the staff voted that I have the hardest job at camp and I would agree. For 39 days I have to worry about over 100 kids with food allergies the same way I do daily for my 2 allergic kids. It's like I am holding my breath everyday

Food Allergy Buzz: What advice would you give to parents of children with food allergies for when they investigate summer camps? What are some questions they should ask?
Harriet: I would tell parents to do their homework, research the camp.  Then speak to the director about how they handle children with food allergies.  Not just nut allergies, as most camps have policies for that but don't understand all food allergies. Ask if they have someone on staff that works with campers with food allergies. What is their Epi pen policy? What snacks are given out?

Of course there's also a personal comfort level.  We don't research brands and we go by labels only. If that is an issue for you, let the camp know.  For example, we had a few parents who didn't like that we go by labels, so we had sesame free bagels available. I welcomed parents to call companies on their own.

Harriet Spitzer-Picker is a Certified Asthma Educator, and her website is Asthma Allergies Education. To view her blog, visit https://asthmaeducationallergies.wordpress.com/. Harriet also leads two support groups Positive Parenting with Food Allergies and Living with Anaphylaxis to Dairy. An ardent food allergy advocate, Harriet may also be found on Twitter--her Twitter handle is @Harriet75.

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