A Peanut and Tree Nut Free Summer Camp in NHJune 5, 2014
We love being a peanut and tree nut free summer camp!
With the start of the summer quickly approaching, one of my favorite pre-camp projects is to look at altering and revising our camp’s menu. Throughout the winter I have been searching websites like epicurious and food.com, and building a pinterest board with as many delicious new meal ideas as I could find! This summer we will have four full-time chefs on staff, and as often as possible they will be serving homemade meals with ingredients plucked fresh from farms around New England. As with previous summers, most of dairy products will be anti-biotic free.
At our overnight camp in NH we serve 330 campers and 200 staff each day, and while our meals need to be tasty, healthy, and enjoyable, they also need to be safe. This summer we will have more than 30 campers & staff who are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, and more than a dozen who are unable to eat wheat or gluten. This summer we will also have campers who are unable to eat fish, mustard, citrus, dairy, and even eggs. I’m often asked by parents how we manage these many different food profiles so successfully.
For the safety of everyone in our community, we do not allow any peanut or tree nut products on our campus. This means that we work closely with our various food vendors to check the label of every single item and package that we purchase. It also means that our chefs make certain dishes themselves, so that there can be no accidental cross contamination. As an example, when we serve hummus it is from chickpeas ground in our kitchen, and with no sesame tahini added. The same is true for our pesto, which has no pine nuts in it. On special theme nights, say when we are serving Chinese food, our dining hall team knows that we can never use sesame oil or seeds.
To keep peanuts and tree nuts out of our community we also ask that parents not send food to their children during the summer. And because our camp attracts such conscientious families, our parents truly follow this policy. Just to be safe, our office staff does check every incoming package, but it is extraordinarily rare for someone to even accidentally send food or drinks in the mail. On movie nights we only serve gummy or fruit-flavored candies, and my wife Deena reads every box’s label to make sure that they were manufactured in a peanut and tree nut free facility. Our counselors are also taught our protocol that should they eat tree nuts or peanuts on their free time away from Camp, they must thoroughly wash their faces, mouths and hands before returning to work.
These safeguards help keep our campers who can’t eat nuts safe, but we also have to plan for our campers and staff with other intolerances and allergies, like gluten or albumen. For them we have a chef on staff that is solely responsible for preparing their meals. We have found that limiting the number of people involved in making our gluten free, mustard free, egg free or dairy free meals is a key component for ensuring that cross-contaminants never accidentally make it into these meals. At meal time those needing a more individualized offering walk up to a window in our dining hall where Chef Keira is waiting to hand each camper their breakfast, lunch or dinner. Adjacent to this station is a refrigerator with plastic bins filled with condiments labeled with the names of each person who needs to keep their food separate and safe.