Even if your kids don’t have food allergies, you can help their classmates (if your school allows food treats) and neighborhood kids stay safe with five simple steps:
READ ALL THE LABELS ON ALL THE THINGS: It might sound obvious to check labels, but if you’re not used to looking for common allergens, labels and ingredient lists can be confusing. FARE has great tools and resources to help you learn more about what kinds of ingredients to avoid for peanut- and tree-nut allergies, and how to understand FDA labeling.
For example, a label will have a warning if peanuts (these grow underground and are part of the legumes family just like beans, peas, lentils and soybeans) or tree nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, etc.) are an intentional ingredient, but may not include information on accidental ingredients (not FDA required). So, if a plain chocolate candy bar is produced on shared equipment with an almond chocolate candy bar, there is the chance for cross-contamination, meaning almond residue or even trace bits of almond could have made their way into the plain chocolate candy bar.
For kids with life-threatening allergies, the distinction is critical. To make sure your treats are truly peanut- and tree-nut free, buy only from an allergy-safe candy maker, call the company or just ask an allergic kidlets’ parents for help.
AVOID THE BIG 8: The Bay Area Advisory Board puts together a comprehensive list of the “Top 10 Allergy Free Halloween Candies” that are free from “The Big 8,” or the eight foods that account for 90% of all food-allergic reactions in the U.S. – milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pecans, etc.), wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish – every year; including separate lists for peanut- and tree nut-free candy, and also gluten- and casein-free candy.
Halloween classics like Swedish Fish, plain Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars(not King size or Minis), Wonka Nerds, Tootsie Rolls, Dum Dum Lollipops, and Starburst Fruit Chews, among many others, are all safe.
Mini-size counterparts of classic candies are not automatically safe though. “Fun-size” candy is not individually labeled, and is often produced on shared equipment, which means a greater chance for cross-contamination or trace allergens.
PLAN AHEAD: Consider segregating treats by using separate bowls for trick-or-treaters – one with regular candy and the other with allergen-free options. Just make sure you keep the treats completely separate.
Or, if your kids are the ones with food allergies, game the system a little. Since younger kids don’t trick-or-treat alone, provide safe candy to your friends and neighbors, and ask them to give it to your child when you arrive.
Implementing a bartering system with older kids (what we do at our house), allows them to focus on what they can have, as opposed to what they can’t. All they have to do is make two piles of loot – one with the candy that’s safe, and one with the candy that needs a new home. Our oldest swaps with his little sister (who doesn’t have food allergies), and since we’ve always done it this way, it’s become the norm.
Don’t have siblings at home? Bartering still works. Candy that isn’t safe can go to mom and dad, or be traded for iPad minutes, pocket money, or stash of safe candy that was purchased ahead of time. (We keep a well-stocked cache on hand just in case the swapping doesn’t work out evenly.)
HAND OUT NON-FOOD TREATS: If you’re still in doubt, it’s probably better to go without.
For most trick-or-treaters, Halloween is more about the experience than the eating, so consider handing out non-food treats (that aren’t lame) like glo-sticks and creepy spider rings. You might just find kids without allergies will prefer these too, making you one of the most spooktacular stops on the neighborhood circuit.
JOIN THE TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT: FARE is encouraging communities everywhere to start a new tradition that is more inclusive of kids with food allergies.
Called the Teal Pumpkin Project, the campaign encourages people to paint a pumpkin teal (the color of food allergy awareness) to place on their porch, post a free printable sign indicating participation, and have non-food treats available for trick-or-treaters.