Halloween, allergies, and the #TealPumpkinProject

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Halloween is a fun time for a lot of people, kids and adults alike. It’s socially acceptable to dress different, scare people (okay, I’m actually not a fan of this but others are), and get free candy. What’s so bad about that?

Well, to put it bluntly—death by candy.

While the majority of kids can happily go door to door, pick any candy they want, and only have to worry about that house that’s giving out raisins or pennies (you know the one), one in 13 kids have a food allergy that makes their Halloween outing less enjoyable. Their parents aren’t just looking for needles in their bag of candy, they’re checking the ingredients. If children eat something they are highly allergic to, there is probably a 100% chance they will go into anaphylactic shock and die if medical care is not received.

I have personally experienced the Halloween horror of “can I eat this?” my entire life. Three years ago, while at college, my friends and I decided to go trick-or-treating. What I came back with was surprising to my friends, but not to me:


About 1/3 of the candy I received—on the right—was edible, and the rest was either iffy or a definite no. Notice how there are Kit-Kat and Hershey bars in the “no” pile—Kit-Kat bars are always a no in the US (unless you go to the international food aisle and get the ones manufactured in the UK, as I do) and Hershey bars at this size almost always may contain almonds.

My trip to the candy aisle

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Today when I went to the store to buy our bags of Halloween candy I decided to do an analysis. How many bags of candy in the holiday aisle are safe? Now of course there were other people also buying candy and I was also right in front of customer service, so this isn’t by any means a very scientific test. But I did my best to count how many bags of candy would be safe for someone like me—allergic to peanuts and tree nuts—and how many I would have to avoid. This included bags that had assortments, so if there was a bag of Twizzlers and a bag of assorted candies including Twizzlers, I counted that twice.

What did I find? There were at least 40 varieties of nutty/peanutty candies. How many peanut/tree nut free? 15. That’s about a 27% chance of choosing a safe bag of candy.

Be aware of food labels

Excessive sugar aside (it’s Halloween after all!) it’s always a good idea to read ingredient labels, especially when your choice could affect your life or the lives of others. Some companies make it easy for you:

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Tootsie Roll seems to be pretty good with allergens. This ingredient label is from their limited edition Tootsie Rolls (I forgot the flavor already), and it clearly shows they’re peanut, tree nut, egg, and gluten free, though they unfortunately use milk and soy ingredients.

But some companies try to fool you with their “helpful” icons:

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Flipz chocolate covered pretzels show that they do not contain peanuts, but as many people allergic to peanuts know, peanuts and tree nuts go hand in hand—the label clearly states that the product may contain tree nuts. (This product also contains wheat, milk, and soy.)

I did surprise myself while shopping, however, to find that Dum-Dums are free of the eight main allergens.

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For a long time I thought they were a no-go, and perhaps that has changed in recent years or I was always mistaken, but their label clearly states on the front and side of the bag that the product is free of all major allergens.

What may surprise you though is Hershey’s mini chocolate bars. Though some of Hershey’s other chocolate bars are free of peanuts and tree nuts, their small packs for Halloween are not.

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And though I did not find them in the Halloween aisle—in recent years I remember seeing specific Halloween packs—I think it’s important to mention that Snyder’s pretzels are not necessarily peanut free, since they also make peanut butter pretzels in the same facility, as their label states.

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So if you were planning on handing out healthy treats, please be aware that candy products are not the only culprits. Dried fruit packages also frequently contain or may contain peanuts or tree nuts.

What can you do to help this Halloween?

Again, read the label. Educate yourself and others on how to read ingredients lists, and try to keep the label for when trick-or-treaters come by. The FDA requires manufacturers to state if anything definitely contains one of the eight main allergens: milk, wheat, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, and soy. They are not required to state if an allergen may be present, though if the ingredients list says a product may contain peanuts, then someone with peanut allergies should stay away. Coming home to count how many treats you can actually eat out of your Halloween bag is bad enough, but not knowing if a certain candy is safe or dangerous is just as upsetting. Experiencing the slow drip of politely thanking neighbors for candy that would kill you can really ruin one’s night (though not as bad as rushing to the hospital).

This is where the Teal Pumpkin Project comes in. Last year, the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET) began a campaign to raise awareness of food allergies and provide safe alternatives for kids with allergies. The symbol is a teal pumpkin, which helps show allergic kids and their parents that your house has safe alternatives. This campaign has been taken up by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) and is spreading all across the US. The goal is to be aware of food labels and provide non-food alternatives for kids with allergies on Halloween. Personally, I’m going to give out glow sticks (which are also helpful for parents for night trick-or-treating).

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If you’d like to learn more, check out FARE’s website.

So please keep kids and adults like me in mind, and provide safe alternatives for a happy Halloween.


P.S. If I gave any incorrect information, please let me know and I will be happy to fix.

P.P.S. This is my 100th blog post. I hope it’s worth it.

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