Halloween time can be a season of costumes, scary movies and candy. But for parents of kids with food allergies, there is a different reason to be frightful. Six of the top eight allergens are in high circulation around Halloween. Wheat, milk, soy and even egg are used in many chocolates, caramels and fruit chews. Even more candies are made with or processed around peanuts and tree nuts, such as walnuts, almonds and cashews. Even small amounts of these allergens can cause an anaphylactic reaction.
"In addition to keeping an eagle eye out for accidental food allergen ingestion, parents should have a good ol' fashioned 'prep talk' with their food allergic kids," says Jill Castle, MS, RD, a childhood nutrition expert, author and mom of a child with food allergies. She recommends parents talk with their children to reinforce what they already know about specific food allergens, how to manage parties and trick-or-treating, and what to do if they realize they're having an allergic reaction. Consider these tips for an allergen-free Halloween.
Read All Labels
This is good advice for all candy, but especially true for miniatures or snack sizes, which are sometimes processed in a different facility than regular-sized candy. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires that all FDA-regulated foods list the top eight major allergens in the ingredients list with common names of the allergen included in parenthesis — such as "lecithin (soy)" or "whey (milk)." Some packaging includes a note with "Contains …" or "May contain …" statements following the ingredient list. These statements are completely voluntary, so play it safe and read the ingredients list every time, even in products you typically consider "safe." Since many individual bite-size candies don’t contain an ingredients list, look up the ingredients for specific products online to ensure they are safe for your child to eat. If a product is homemade or has no label, throw it out.
Talk to Your Neighbors
Neighbors and friends may want to buy allergen-free candy but don't know what to buy, or may not even know that your child has a food allergy. Share with them what to look for when purchasing candy, or even offer to provide them with "safe" candy that they can hand to your trick-or-treater.
Look for the Teal Pumpkins
Created by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in 2014, the Teal Pumpkin Project is a campaign to raise awareness of food allergies and provide safe options for food allergic trick-or-treaters. Participants pledge to put a teal pumpkin outside their homes, indicating they have safe, non-food treats available.
Instill the "Always Ask First" Rule
Carry candy for young children and remind all children not to share food and to ask you before eating anything. "With my own son who has tree nut allergies, we always had an 'ask before eating anything' rule," Castle says. "We sorted all candy when we returned home, provided alternative foods at school and reviewed potential symptoms."
Safe at School
If your child's class celebrates Halloween, take an active role in preventing the risk of a dangerous allergic reaction. Talk to the teachers in advance, volunteer to organize the party, offer to bring the treats or non-food goodies or plan to attend in person and double-check that your child's emergency action plan and epinephrine pens are up-to-date.
Trade or Donate
Before setting out trick-or-treating, make a plan with your child to swap any unsafe candy for another prize such as a safe candy, book or small toy. Or, donate candy to the local food pantry or other charitable organization.
Start a New Tradition
Host a costume party at your house, so you are in charge of treats. Or, forgo candy altogether and offer trick-or-treaters a variety of non-candy items such as stickers, glow sticks, bouncy balls or fake mustaches.