Halloween and Food Allergy Safety

Thursday, May 24, 2012

While Halloween can be a fun holiday for children who Trick-or-Treat, the night can indeed be a scary experience for any of the three million youth who suffer from food allergy. Experts estimate that food allergy occurs in six to eight percent of children four years of age or under, and in four percent of adults. In recent years, it was reported that an estimated 29,000 people go to US emergency rooms each year as a result of allergic reactions to food.

Amal Assa'ad, MD, director of the Food Allergy Clinic at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, advises that parents and adults who pass out candy on Halloween become very cautious about the types of snacks they give. "Every year, I see a few children who suffer from allergic reactions around Halloween time," said Dr. Assa'ad. "A lot of times, candy that is given on Halloween contains peanuts and tree nuts, or it has been manufactured on equipment that has been used to make products that have peanuts and tree nuts," said Dr. Assa'ad. "Under these circumstances, it is not possible to know whether the food contains traces of peanuts and other nuts or not, and it is best to take a cautious approach and avoid those foods," Dr. Assa'ad said.

The most common food allergies are milk, egg, peanut, tree nut, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat. These are often referred to as "the big eight." They account for over 90% of the food allergies in the USA. For people who have allergy, any of the big eight can cause serious health problems such as dizziness, stomach cramps, swelling in the throat or tongue or even anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction, which could lead to death. The only way a child can be absolutely sure that he or she does not suffer a reaction is to completely avoid foods that trigger his or her allergy.

Adults and parents who pass out candy on Halloween may want to rethink the snacks they give to their costumed visitors. "Many times, we don't check labels carefully enough," Dr. Assa'ad said, referring to the bite-sized candy bars and treats that are usually passed out on the holiday.

Dr. Assa'ad said it is extremely important that parents are extra cautious about inspecting their children's candy on Halloween, especially if one of their children has allergy problems and other children do not. "Usually, parents are more careful about watching what their kids eat around Halloween time, but sometimes kids who have allergy will get into their siblings' candy that hasn't been sorted out yet," said Dr. Assa'ad.

Dr. Assa'ad explains that parents and adults can take several safety measures to ensure that their child has a safe and allergic reaction-free Halloween:

  • If a child starts to have a severe allergic reaction to one of his or her Halloween treats, make sure that he or she has their medicine or Epipen (the medicine commonly used to treat allergic reactions) readily available and call 9-1-1.
  • Adults who pass out snacks may want to avoid purchasing items that contain some of the most common allergens such as: eggs, milk, peanuts and tree nuts.
  • Inspect all candy and treats that Trick-or-Treaters bring home and check each label carefully; make sure that they contain no foods that can trigger an allergic reaction.
  • If two or more children trick-or-treat together and one is allergic to certain foods and the other is not, sort their candy accordingly.
  • Don't leave candy lying around the house where children can easily find it or get into it.
  • Ask neighbors to hand out only candy with individualized labels - so kids with allergies can determine whether the treat is safe to eat or not.
  • Teach children to politely refuse offers of cookies and other homemade treats.
  • Adults can pass out alternatives to snacks and candy such as: temporary tattoos, stickers,fancy erasers, crayons, small novelty toys, slime, miniature magnifying glasses, plastic jewelry/decoder rings, necklaces and fake money. (Other alternative treats can be found on the National Resource Services web site.)

"By following safety tips and being aware of what triggers a child's allergic reactions,
parents can make sure that all children enjoy Halloween," said Dr. Assa'ad.

For more information about Cincinnati Children's Food Allergy Clinic, please visit http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/svc/alpha/f/food-allergy/default.htm or call 513-636-7210.

Contact Information

Danielle Lewis
513-636-9473
danielle.lewis1@cchmc.org