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Allergies are everywhere… and we don’t mean the stuffy nose, watery eyes, sneezing, seasonal allergies that drive most of us crazy. No, we’re talking about the deadly, asphyxiating, hive-inducing food allergies that have become a fast-growing public health concern among children in the U.S. With Halloween around the corner, loads of candy are bought and randomly passed out to our little monsters, but food allergies, specifically related to peanuts and tree-nuts, lurk among even the cutest of gremlins. How can we ensure that fun will be had by all, but still keep every child safe?
Each year, we take our children dressed in the cutest — or spookiest — fashions door to door, gently begging our neighbors for gobs of sugar to last us well until next year. We thank them in advance for the sugar-highs of tomorrow and future dental bills, then make our way home to dump the bag and one by one, carefully inspect each and every piece to be sure the wrapper is still tightly intact. How dare anyone attempt to tamper with our children’s candy?!
But, what if you also had to not only inspect wrappers but carefully inspect candy for peanuts or tree-nuts? Add to that, candy made in factories where peanuts or tree-nuts are processed. What if your child is so highly allergic that he or she would need serious medical attention if they came in contact with one piece of contaminated candy? Your job as Halloween Candy Inspector — or ‘Parent’ — just became that much more serious.
Food allergies are a growing problem in the U.S., according to the CDC and Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). FARE states that researchers estimate a whopping 15 million Americans have food allergies and affects 1 in every 13 children under the age of 18. The site also states that every 3 minutes, a food allergy sends someone to the emergency room, and results in more than 300,000 ambulatory-care visits a year for children. While some reactions to a food allergy can be mild, ranging from a skin rash to an itchy mouth, more severe reactions can result in swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat, difficulty breathing, and loss of consciousness, to name a few. Severe reactions to food allergies can potentially be deadly.
So, how do we as parents keep the spirit of Halloween alive while still ensuring the safety of our children? Whether you have a child with allergies or not, here are a few tips, tricks, and treats to help you navigate an allergen-free and fright-filled night for all!
- Look for warning labels on packages of candy as companies are required by law to provide food allergen warnings. Some allergy warnings are made obvious on the front of packaging, while most are small under the list of ingredients.
- Read the ingredient list as not all possible allergens might be listed under the warning label, but may be found in the ingredient list. Coconut is a common candy ingredient and allergen, however, it is not required by law to be listed in the allergen warnings. So, check the ingredient list!
- Don’t assume that just because a piece of candy doesn’t look like it contains an allergen, such as nuts or dairy, that it’s safe to eat. Lollipops that appear nut free can be processed in a factory that also processes other candies with nuts. If you don’t have the packaging to double check, most nutritional information can be found online. If in doubt, throw it out.
- Prepare your child by reviewing the list of candy he or she can eat prior to trick or treating. If you’d rather not risk it at all, have a game plan so that your child still gets to enjoy the Halloween festivities. A common tactic is providing a new toy in exchange for the candy loot at the end of the night.
- If your child has an allergy, instead of the standard “Trick or Treat” saying, try using the phrase “Trick or Treat, No Nuts Please!” Hopefully, your neighbors will catch it and be sure to either grab a non-food item if it’s available or they will look for a safer candy alternative.
- If you know a good group of your neighbors well, plan ahead of time and provide a non-candy treat to each of those neighbors to be given to your child on the night of Halloween. If your child is old enough, it might be fun to create a game out of it by mapping out the houses you will hit on your “secret mission” to pick up each one of the secret packages — also known to you as your allergen-free treats! (Psst… your neighbor will likely need a reminder and costume specifics, as there are likely to be many costume doubles trick-or-treating. It may help to tell them that your child will be using the saying mentioned above.) Don’t let your child in on your secret. Let it be part of the game and keep the night exciting!
- Paint a pumpkin teal and leave it on your porch to let trick-or-treaters with allergies know that you support them with non-candy treats. Enlist the help of your child to paint the pumpkin and for those children without allergies, make it a teachable moment about the importance of caring for others. To learn more about this wonderful project and national campaign by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) to raise awareness of food allergies, especially during the Halloween holiday, check out their campaign website here.
- Trick-or-Treating should be enjoyable for all children… and parents. While offering candy is the tradition, due to the increasing safety hazards, alternative options are becoming more and more available and parents are quickly discovering that children are actually preferring the non-food goodies over the sugar coma-inducing alternatives. Options include: Halloween stickers, glow sticks, bubbles, mini play-doh, pencils, erasers, individual bags of goldfish, popcorn, Halloween spider rings, vampire teeth, bouncy balls, or Halloween stamps. The list could go on and on. Be creative and have fun with it — just remember, they don’t need to be expensive. Amazon has a great selection of children’s Halloween novelty party supplies. Children will jump at the opportunity to have a new little toy over another treat.
- Halloween is the perfect time of year for a get-together with friends. If skipping trick-or-treating all-together is an option for your little ones, throwing a Halloween-themed gathering might just be the perfect way to throw on the adorable costume and have some fun. In most places, the weather is perfect this time of year. Whip up some allergen-free appetizers, bob for apples, paint some pumpkins, turn on the monster mash and let the kids (and adults) boogie! Not only will all of your child’s friends have another opportunity to show off their costume, but your child won’t feel like they are missing out on the Halloween festivities.