Allergies at Camp – Our Guiding Principles - Camp Zeke - Sleepaway Summer Camp

At Camp Zeke, we welcome campers who have allergies to nuts, sesame, gluten, dairy, eggs, and fish. Camp is completely nut free and sesame free, and we also have dedicated allergy chefs who create foods that are free of gluten, dairy, eggs, and fish.

To keep every member of our community safe, we developed a comprehensive Camp Zeke Allergy Procedures manual. It was written as a collaboration between our food service manager, our head allergy chef (who herself lives with allergies), a registered dietitian (who has worked at Camp Zeke for many years), and other concerned and engaged community members, including parents of campers with allergies. Every member of our staff is trained on our allergy procedures before the summer starts.

While the detailed manual evolves with each passing summer, below are some of the principles that guide our approach to allergies. Want to see the full manual? Just email us and we’ll be glad to send it.

Close up of a camper's hands preparing food

Principles Guiding Our Approach to Allergies

  • Camp Zeke is nut and sesame free. Those allergens do not appear in any food served by the camp or cooked in our culinary arts classes. Every product label is checked by our team. If a label indicates that an ingredient is processed on shared equipment or equipment that may be exposed to allergens, then we contact manufacturers to ask questions about their processes. 
  • Allergens should be clearly visible and obvious. If a camper looks at a slice of pizza, the camper can clearly see the cheese but cannot see egg in the crust – so we avoid using pizza crust with egg in it.
  • We avoid introducing “unnecessary” allergens. Cheese is not essential to pasta sauce, nor are breadcrumbs essential to salad. When we can leave an allergen out without changing the nature of a dish, we leave it out. Of course, our scrambled eggs are still made of eggs, our bagels are made of gluten, and our pizza has cheese.
  • Allergy-friendly foods should look different from allergen foods. If the regular grilled cheese uses white cheese, the allergy-friendly version should use yellow dairy-free cheese.
  • We have a dedicated allergy-friendly buffet table staffed by our allergy chefs, who wear bright red shirts that say “Ask Me About Allergies.” This is where we serve allergen-free alternatives to items on the main table, and this is where our trained chefs can answer questions about the allergens in every dish on either table.
  • Allergens are clearly labeled on the daily menu. Campers can always look at the menu to see which allergens are present in each dish.
  • We prevent cross contamination in and out of the kitchen. We have strict rules to ensure that allergens aren’t inadvertently introduced into allergy-free foods, both in the main kitchen and on the buffet tables.
  • We typically do not allow allergens to leave the dining room.  In the following settings, all food served is gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, fish-free, nut-free, and sesame-free: s’mores and any other foods at campfires; all food made in camp’s teaching kitchens; all food served in the Canteen; all food served for snack; all food brought from camp on field trips; and all food served on buses to and from camp on opening and closing day. For our picnic lunches, our campers pick up their own meals individually from tables set up on the dining room porch. Our campers with allergies pick up their specially made sandwiches directly from our allergy chef who has a separate table on the porch.
  • If campers go out for ice cream, we bring ice cream from camp for kids with severe allergies. This way they don’t order food from a kitchen that doesn’t use our safety procedures.
  • Campers are responsible to never make assumptions about the ingredients in a dish. All questions about allergens are directed to our allergy chefs.
  • We ask all campers and visitors not to bring outside food into camp. To ensure every camper’s safety, we ask parents and kids not to bring food on the buses on the way to camp and not to have outside food in their bunks. Camp provides snacks for the bus ride and throughout each camp day. However, with hundreds of campers coming to camp each season, some outside food ends up on the buses and in bunks despite our policy against it. Our staff take away outside food when they become aware of it. If a camper ever becomes aware of outside food in their bunk, they should discreetly tell a counselor and the food will be removed. We also request that families not send food to camp.  Food packages that are sent to camp cannot be distributed to campers and are shared with local food pantries.

Principles, not fixed rules…

The important thing to keep in mind is that these are guiding principles rather than firm rules. Recognizing that we will not be able to meet every principle in every situation, our goal is to have multiple safety mechanisms in place, so even when we cannot meet one of the principles, another applies to ensure safety.

For example, if a vendor accidentally sends us gluten free spaghetti rather than gluten free shells, then the regular pasta and gluten free pasta will look the same. However, the gluten free pasta will still be cooked in the allergy kitchen, it will still be served from the allergy buffet table, it will still be labeled gluten free, and the allergy chef will be there to explain that it’s gluten free. Due to a variety of circumstances, a particular principle may not apply in every situation, in which case another principle will serve as a backup to ensure that our food service remains safe.

Ultimately, camps allergy procedures are a team effort that involves our counselors, kitchen staff, campers, and parents. When we all work together, it makes camp a welcoming and accommodating environment for kids with severe food allergies.

Close-up shot of a colorful salad

Our campers have made thousands of friendships, millions of memories, and lifelong skills in athletics, cooking, and joyful Judaism. We are proudly supported by:

  • Jewish Camp
  • Jim Joseph Foundation
  • Avi Chai
  • UJA Federation
  • The Jewish Education Project
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We are fully accredited by the American Camp Association