Camp Food Service Amid COVID-19

Camp kitchens and dining halls will look different this summer as camps adopt an array of measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Instead of bellying up to an indoor buffet, many campers will be eating sack lunches outside.

Here are some of the disease control methods experts are recommending as camps prepare for the Summer 2021 season. These tips and more can be found in the CDC’s Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps and the American Camp Association’s Field Guide For Camps.

We have divided the guidance into four areas: staff, seating, serving, and sanitation.


The virus that causes COVID-19 tends to be spread by humans, not by food. Health experts stress the importance of staff training for controlling the virus. It’s important for all food service workers to stay home if they’re ill, report COVID-19 symptoms to supervisors, and go home immediately if they start feeling symptoms at work. Here are some other measures to consider:

  • Seek backups. Make sure you have enough qualified and licensed staff to fill critical food service positions.
  • Screen staff. Screen food service workers for COVID-19 symptoms before they start work each day.
  • Provide supplies. Ensure staff have access to soap, clean running water, disposable gloves, and face masks.
  • Show them how. Train staff on the camp’s handwashing and disease control measures.


Creative measures may be needed to space out diners while they’re waiting in lines and eating. In general, experts recommend trying to cut the occupancy of your dining hall by up to 50 percent.1 Here are some ways to accomplish this goal:

  • Add spacing reminders. Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or signs on walls, to ensure that people remain at least 6 feet apart in lines and at other times.2
  • Send them outside. Encourage people to eat in separate areas outside. Campers could eat boxed lunches with their small groups at an activity area or near their cabins.
  • Stagger mealtimes. Offer several eating opportunities over a longer span of time, so you can reduce the number of people inside the dining hall or cafeteria. Clean and disinfect the dining area between each mealtime.
  • Remove chairs. Adjust tables and chairs to increase physical distance between diners. If a table normally seats 10, use only five chairs.
  • Assign seating. Have diners sit in the same place for every meal. You could use the same seating for the duration of camp or allow campers to change it up after two weeks.


Take every opportunity to avoid people touching the same objects. This means eliminating buffet style meals, salad bars, counter food service, fountain drinks, and other offerings that involve shared surfaces. Family-style meals can continue, if one counselor or staff member with clean hands serves everyone at the table. You can also have workers plate dinners, cafeteria style. Here are some other suggestions:

  • Supply sack lunches. Individually packaged meals offer an alternative to cafeterias. Diners can grab and go.
  • Offer single servings. When food is shared, serve individually packaged pieces, such as cupcakes instead of a sheet cake.
  • Use disposable items. Switch to paper plates and plastic utensils, which don’t require sharing or sanitizing. Remove condiment dispensers and serve plated meals with packets of ketchup, mustard, etc.
  • Make trash cans touch-free. Leave garbage can lids open in the dining room, unless people can open the lids with a foot lever.


Workers need to practice good hygiene, plus encourage it among diners. Make stations available for people to wash their hands with soap and water before eating. If that cannot be done, provide alcohol-based hand sanitizer at the entrance to the dining area. Here are some additional tips to support sanitation:

  • Stock up on supplies. Ensure you have accessible sinks and enough supplies for people to clean and dry their hands. Supplies include soap, paper towels, tissues, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes.
  • Wear gloves. In addition to masks, workers should don gloves before handling used dishes, cups, and other food service items. People should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after directly handling used items.
  • Post signs. Remind campers and staff how they can stop the spread of germs by spreading themselves apart, washing their hands, and properly wearing masks.
  • Clean and disinfect. Wipe down all dirty surfaces with detergent or soap and water. Once surfaces are clean, apply an appropriate disinfectant for the surface being sanitized.

These are just a few recommendations that can help your camp get its dining hall ready for camp amid COVID-19. You’ll find more detailed information about cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting areas in the American Camp Association’s Field Guide for Camps, which may be downloaded from the ACA’s website. The ACA updates the material as new guidance becomes available, so you may wish to revisit the site occasionally.

Camp leaders are encouraged to stay informed about state and local government restrictions, guidance, and recommendations as your team prepares to resume camp activities.


  1. American Camp Association: Field Guide for Camps, Section 5.0
  2. CDC: Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps

Posted January 28, 2021

The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.