Halloween can be one of the riskiest times of the year for children and adults with food allergies. Six of the top allergens are frequently found in Halloween candy and treats. In addition to peanuts and tree nuts, other allergens such as wheat, milk, soy, and even egg are used in many chocolates, caramels, and fruit chews. Some candies are also made with, or processed on, the same equipment as peanuts and tree nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, and cashews. In some cases, even trace amounts of these ingredients can cause anaphylactic reactions.
“Parents should talk with their children about the allergens that can be found in specific foods, especially in Halloween candy and treat bags,” says Jennifer Toh, M.D., an allergist/immunologist for ENT and Allergy Associates, the largest ear, nose, throat, allergy, and audiology practice in the country. “Talk to your children and come up with a plan for when they are attending parties and trick-or-treating with other friends, including what to do if they think they are having an allergic reaction. Always make sure that responsible adults are at any party and talk with them to make sure they are aware of the child’s allergies.”
Below are six tips to ensure your Halloween is a fun AND safe occasion for everyone.
- Always read the ingredients labels. If the ingredients aren’t listed, arrange for a treat “exchange” with classmates or friends. Also, “fun size” or miniature candies may have different ingredients or be made on different equipment than the regular size candies, meaning that brands your child previously ate without problems could cause a reaction.
- Ensure that your child and/or your child’s teacher or caregiver always have access to their Epi-Pen. It is crucial that children with known food allergies have their epinephrine autoinjector with them at all times or in the care of a responsible caregiver. It could be a lifesaving necessity in the event of an allergic reaction.
- Be on the lookout for Teal Pumpkins. The Teal Pumpkin Project was created by Food Allergy Research & Education in 2014 to raise awareness of food allergies and provide safe options for food-allergic trick-or-treaters. Participants who decorate the outside of their homes with teal-colored pumpkins pledge to have safe, non-food treats available.
- Make sure your child “always asks first.” Remind children not to share food and to ask you before eating anything. Kids should learn to always read the label before eating any packaged food or candy. If in doubt, trade it, give it away, or throw it out. Teach your child to politely turn down home-baked items such as cupcakes and brownies, and never to taste or share another child’s food.
- Inform teachers and class parents. If your child’s class celebrates Halloween, speak to all your child’s teachers and class parents in advance. You can also have additional control if you volunteer to organize the party, offer to bring the treats or non-food goodies, or plan to attend in person. At the start of every school year, you will also want to double-check that your child’s epinephrine pens and emergency action plan are still current and not out-of-date.
- Plan alternatives to trick-or-treating. Play a Halloween-themed game or watch an age-appropriate scary movie together. You can also plan a Halloween party that focuses on fun activities, such as costume parades, pumpkin decorating contests, Halloween-themed crafts, and scavenger hunts.