Any food centered event can introduce challenges for families and children with food allergies. Trick or treating and Halloween celebrations, in particular, present opportunities for increased exposure to food allergens, which can be present in candy and other treats. Peanuts and tree nuts are the food allergens that most are concerned about with Halloween candy, but people with any food allergies, including milk, egg, wheat, and soy need to be careful as well.
Anyone with food allergies should already be educated about and follow necessary precautions to avoid exposure and ingestion to their known food allergens. All of the same rules apply for Halloween as they do for eating out at restaurants, holiday trips to friends/relative’s homes, traveling and even attending school. With the proper plan, anyone with food allergies can safely enjoy trick or treating.
Here are few Halloween focused tips:
No eating until you’re home.
Poor lighting and plenty of distractions can increase the risk of misidentification and accidental ingestion of a food allergen when going door to door. Make sure your child waits until they are at home and can take the time to carefully go through their stash to make sure it’s safe to eat. It is best to avoid all homemade baked goods unless you have had clear communication to ensure they are allergen free.
Talk to your neighbors.
For some families, you may be able to talk to your neighbors ahead of time to make them aware of your child’s food allergies. You can even offer to supply them with safe alternatives to hand out when your child comes to the door.
Always read labels.
Packaged foods must clearly indicate whether they contain the most common food allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, or soy. However, this is not all inclusive and people with other food allergies need to read labels very carefully. CAUTION: Some miniature candies may have different labels than the regular sized versions. Read every label, even if consumed before, and if there’s any doubt – don’t eat it.
Have self-injectable epinephrine and a fully charged cell phone available during trick or treating.
Accidents happen, that’s why it’s important to be prepared. This should be standard for anyone with food allergies, at all times, but particularly on this night.
Have alternative safe treats or other prizes to exchange.
Your child may come home with a plentiful bounty of goodies after trick or treating but may quickly realize that many of the treats are not safe to eat. If you have safe alternatives available, or a ‘prize exchange’ for unsafe candy, this can help prevent them from feeling excluded. Consider age-appropriate alternatives such as coloring books, storybooks, stickers, toys, or a ‘tooth fairy’ like cash exchange.
Consider hosting a non-food related Halloween party.
Some families with food allergies may feel more comfortable avoiding trick or treating all together. Offering to have friends over to partake in a scavenger hunt, ghostly story time, movie night, slumber party, or other games can offer a fun alternative.
These are just a few tips to help ensure your child with food allergies has a safe and fun Halloween. Every individual is different, so you should consider discussing directly with your child’s pediatrician and/or allergist to see if they have other ideas as well. As with everything, a little preparation can go a long way!
For more information on food allergies, Join Dr. Mike Patrick in PediaCast!
David Stukus, MD, is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma.
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