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March 19, 2007

Who Do You Trust with Your Child's Food Allergies?

I just got back from another camping trip with my daughters. We went up to the mountains, shot BB guns, did some archery, climbed a rock wall and did lots of hiking. At this particular camp, run by the YMCA, they also prepared meals in the mess hall.

I called the camp leader a week before we arrived to check out menu and ingredients for the trip. I was told, "No problem, we deal with child food allergies all the time." I was starting to feel better about my food allergy concerns.

So, the leader connected me to the kitchen staff. They faxed me a menu for the week and promised to send a list of ingredients. "This is impressive" I thought. The menu came, I circled a few things and asked about the ingredients. I didn't hear back before the campout, so I did as I always do and packed extra food in our cooler.

We arrived on Friday night to a confused camp counselor who said, "Oh, we don't make special accommodations or change the menu for food allergies. You, as the parent, are responsible." Hmm. That didn't feel too good. So I asked to see the camp leader, the man I talked to on the phone originally. With a big smile on his face he said, "No worries, we'll take care of you."

I fed my daughter from our cooler Friday night and Saturday morning. There were eggs served (she's allergic), so we took care to keep her food separate. Then came lunch on Saturday. Oh boy...

We arrived at the mess hall to find steak and chicken fajitas served on tortillas that were nut free. Sounds pretty good until we look at the front counter and see three large jars of PEANUT BUTTER and some jars of jelly! ARGH!!!

I rushed over to the counter and asked my kitchen contact, "We're these on the menu you sent?" Her answer? "No, these are just extras we put out for the kids." I found the camp leader and asked that he remove the PB&J for the rest of the weekend, he apologized and did just that.

"Extras?" Are you kidding me? I wanted to scream.

I went out of my way to make sure it was safe. The camp leader assured me they knew how to handle food allergies. The kitchen staff faxed me a menu ahead of time. And THEN went ahead and served peanut butter?

To top it off, this same camp runs summer camps for kids. In those situations, the parents just drop off their children and wave good bye. What if THAT was the situation here? I would have been given all the assurances of "we deal with this all the time" and could have received a call home that would go like this...

"Yes, David, I know we assured you everything would be safe, however, your daughter accidentally ingested some of the peanut butter we served during lunch."

I'm sorry for ranting here but THIS is exactly why we as parents of food allergic children simply cannot relax when it comes to entrusting our kids with others.

We need to be prepared for emergencies. Don't leave your kids with adults who don't know how to use an epi-pen. In fact, see them demonstrate how to use it. Don't trust kitchen staff 100%.

The best we can do sometimes is just not enough. Be concerned, ask more questions, find out their emergency plan. Where is the nearest ER? Then say a prayer that God will keep your child safe.

Here's to educating those who care for our children in our absence.

Posted by David at March 19, 2007 5:18 PM


I had a similar experience recently with open jars of peanut butter and I wrote about it in my March 12 post (www.checkmytag.com/community.html). I was shocked that in this day and age, parents of young kids could still be so unaware of the dangers of peanut allergies. Your experience is even more frightening because camp personnel are trained, authorized, and paid to TAKE CARE OF children! There is so much more to be done for awareness and education. But I have to believe the efforts of people who are passionate about this issue will create a safer world for people with food allergies.

Posted by: Ria, Check My Tag at March 19, 2007 9:03 PM

Who do I trust? Nobody. Okay, the chefs at Walt Disney World in Florida. They knew what they were talking about and what they were doing. But that's it.

We just returned from a weekend trip to Pittsburgh for a wedding. I packed all of my son's food in a cooler, kept it on ice and heated it in the room microwave for him to eat while my husband and I ate the food served by the caterers.

I wondered if I was being "chicken" by not trying to even talk to the caterers to see if they could provide a safe a meal for my son. Maybe I am, but with allergies to nuts, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts, it seems too much to negotiate.

The catered food for the adults at this wedding? Pecan crusted chicken and parmesan risotto...

Posted by: Elizabeth at March 20, 2007 1:09 PM

That is tough. The hardest part is that unless people have a loved one with a severe allergy they just don't understand how careful you have to be.

It is unfortunate that you put in your best effort and then somebody (with the best of intentions) laid out the peanut butter buffet. Our daughter is too young for camp but I know now that I would not sleep a wink if she was to go away for a week or more in a camp setting. NP.

Posted by: NoPeanuts at March 22, 2007 9:48 PM

Just to remind you, God gave you your daughter because he thought you and your family will be a great protector of your daughters welfare. He has faith you will succeed. Keep up the fight.


Posted by: Food Allergy Advice at March 25, 2007 8:30 PM

This happens all of the time. The effort of the parent is huge and we mistakenly believe others "get it" when they say they do, ie: schools, scouts, camps, and sadly, friends. As a thirteen year veteran of two food allergic children I suppliment the food myself and train my kids to be vigilent and pro-active about their needs.

After all, a food allergy is a handicapping condition covered under the American's with Disabilities Act. The Food Allergy Network here does not promote advocating for our kid's rights, only how to protect kids from exposure. Few people are vocal about this need for awareness and the seriousness of the problem.

I even had problems having my children in Sunday school because the teachers insisted on giving a snack during a one hour class!

Posted by: Carol at March 26, 2007 5:13 PM