Thursday, October 23, 2014

Halloween is a Tricky Time for those with Food Allergies

I had never had any experiences with any friends, family, co-workers or acquaintances suffering from food allergies until the day my daughter ate some peanut butter and we found ourselves in a hospital ER not sure if she was going to live or die after going into anaphylactic shock.  Fortunately everything turned out all right but now everyday is a challenge to avoid food and situations that could put her in peril.

I didn't realize just how much food I'd taken for granted over the years was dangerous for people suffering from food allergies either from ingredients or contamination during the manufacturing, baking or packaging of the product until we had to start monitoring what we fed our family.  The feeling of loneliness and exclusion when dealing with others that don't provide compassion or consideration, and in some cases even express hostility, towards your situation is a factor that I hadn't taken into consideration until food allergies started impacting our daily lives and we experienced these situations first hand.  We've already encountered our kids not being invited to play dates and birthday parties because the other students' parents didn't want to deal with our "food allergy" children being at their function.  On another occasion, we had to sit in the back of the room at a school holiday concert  away from everyone else because the event featured a pot luck buffet full of things that weren't safe for my daughter to eat and they fed everyone before instead of after the students performance of songs that my children had practiced for weeks and were very excited to participate in.

Holidays in particular can be a tricky time with so many parties and events that have a focus on food, especially Halloween.  Halloween was always one of my favorite times of year as a child.  I loved the spooky vibe of the season filled with costumes and decorations and of course trick-or-treating was a huge thrill.  While we stay away from many of the trick-or-treat type events surrounding the holiday, we do go out on Halloween night because I just didn't feel that it was fair for my kids to see all the other children in the neighborhood running around having fun and have to make them stay in the house.  We only go to a few houses in our neighborhood though and our kids don't touch or eat any of the candy.  When they get home my son and daughter trade in their candy for a treat bundle that my wife and I put together for them that includes toys and Halloween themed trinkets.  This year they are getting some Disney Infinity video game figures, Crayola coloring sets, and Scholastic books for their candy trade in. As we are imposing on others by visiting their homes asking for treats we take the responsibility on ourselves to be safe but awareness and consideration regarding food allergies by our neighbors is always appreciated.

My children's allergy doctor participates in the Metro Detroit Food Allergy Friendly Trick-or-Treasure event

Our kids are also lucky in that our community has been generous enough to adopt a Food Allergy Friendly Trick-or-Treasure event for children in the Metro Detroit area to attend the Saturday before Halloween that we enjoy going to.  The organizers screen candy labels for ingredient or contamination warnings and only purchase items identifies as safe for kids with peanut or tree nut allergies, though they do make an effort to accommodate for the eight top allergens impacting children.  They than distribute this candy and some other non-food treats (including comic books from Halloween Comic Fest) to businesses in our downtown who are participating sponsors along the trick or treat route so everyone has pre-screened goodies to hand out.

While the number of children with food allergies is still a small percentage of the population, the numbers are unfortunately growing.  Today, 1 in 12 children, approximately 8 million children living in the United States, are allergic to peanuts, tree nuts or milk, ingredients commonly found in candy.  What is really scary is that cases of the most life-threatening allergy, peanuts, have doubled in the last five years.  So there really are quite a few families dealing with food allergies at Halloween, more than you may have been aware of.


Microscopic contamination of food or candy can make treats unsafe even if they don't have the allergen in their actual ingredients.  Don't just look at the ingredients on labels but also watch out for labels that identify if a treat was processed, prepared or packaged in a facility with the allergens.


Unfortunately, even with washing, if the same bowls, pans, utensils and other kitchen tools are used to make and prepare items that contain allergens there is a significant risk of contamination though the food itself may not have the allergen as an ingredient.  That often makes home baked goods and items from bakeries off-limits for kids with food allergies. 


In the case of my daughter, peanut or tree nut oil can be absorbed into her skin causing a reaction.  A child with peanut butter on their hands touching her skin or someone inadvertently contaminating a toy, seat, or desktop by handling something containing peanuts or tree nuts than her handling the same item creates a potential hazard.  Being wary of multiple types of exposures is so important.  The simple act of the wrapper from a piece of candy being torn and thrown into a goodie bag or trick-or-treat sack could contaminate the wrappers of every other item included with it.


It can be really scary to have a food allergy and someone is trying to force candy you know you shouldn't be touching in your hand.  Every year we have well-meaning people trying to force my daughter to take Reese's Peanut Butter Cups from them by handing them to her even when she says no thank you.  Let the kids grab treats from a bowl or drop them in their trick or treat bucket just to be safe.


If a child has a food allergy and sees that you are giving out something they shouldn't have they'll probably tell you and say thanks but I can't have that. Often times my kids just won't take unsafe candy from a bowl or will simply let someone drop it in their bag and not say anything knowing they are trading it to us at the end of the night.  It is when people start trying to force my kids to handle unsafe candy from them where problems occur though.  Every year I witness people telling my kids that food allergies aren't that big of a deal and go ahead and try it.  Than I have to step in!

It amazes me that my kids are always polite and say "thank you but I can't have that because of a food allergy so no thanks" yet adults get angry and argue with them.  Really?!!! 


Try to provide treats at Halloween that are safe for everyone so no child is excluded from Halloween fun.  If you feel it is a necessity to include treats that aren't safe for everyone than provide other options and make sure you keep things segregated.  Many of the food allergy deaths reported within the United States the last few years have been from accidents involving safe and non-safe foods being intermingled.

The charity Kids With Food Allergies has provided a nice digital booklet with tips on trick or treating and other fun activities for food allergic children titled Celebrating Halloween With Food AllergiesCLICK HERE to download it.


Because a majority of people do not have food allergies it just doesn't occur to them how important it is to make their home an allergy-friendly stop on the trick-or-treat trail or to take precautions at parties or community events.  Please share this post with friends and families to help make everyone aware!

This Halloween, the charity Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) is encouraging people to start a new tradition that will help make this holiday season less scary for children with food allergies: the TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT.  This campaign encourages people to raise awareness of food allergies by providing non-food or food allergy safe treats for trick-or-treaters and painting a pumpkin teal - the color of food allergy awareness - to place in front of their house or display a free printable sign from FARE featuring a teal pumpkin on their front door.

VALU HOME CENTERS has a nice post on their website about how to create a teal pumpkin and participate in the  #TealPumpkinProject.  CLICK HERE to check it out.

For more information about food allergies please visit the FARE website at


  1. We are kind of in the same boat here, although not a peanut allergy my husband is allergic to onions and sea food. The onion allergy could be compared to the peanut allergy because today everyone puts onions in everything, so we have to read the ingredients for all foods we purchase and going out to eat can be a pain also.

  2. I luckily don't have any food allergies, but I know schools now are trying to be more conscious of those with allergies by having "nut free" zones too. I never really thought about kids with allergies trick-or-treating, you have some good tips here.

  3. These are great tips! We're lucky to have a food allergy in our home, but we have several relatives and friends that do. Sharing this post.

  4. Thank you for educating me on this subject. I don't know a lot about food allergies, so this is certainly good to know!

  5. Love the teal pumpkin idea. Holidays should be safe for everyone.