Many kids look forward to Halloween and trick-or-treating, but it can literally be a scary time for those with food allergies. About one in 13 children in the U.S. are affected by allergies to foods such as peanuts, tree nuts and milk, which are ingredients commonly found in candy.
There is no cure for food allergies, so strict avoidance is the key to preventing allergic reactions. Allergic reactions are unpredictable; they may present and progress differently than previous reactions. A seemingly mild reaction can turn life-threatening quickly. Even a bite (or less) of the wrong candy could cause a severe reaction. Furthermore, some children can have reactions from allergens in the air or that come in contact with their skin.
Many parents struggle to find ways to keep their food-allergic kids safely included in holiday celebrations. Fortunately, there are lots of great resources to help. When it comes to celebrations, parents should plan ahead, be extra vigilant, and use resources and creativity when needed.
At Halloween time, try to emphasize the costumes, decorations, and “safe” treats and have a plan in place to avoid the allergen laden treats. Kids with Food Allergies Foundation (KFA) has some great Halloween tips and recipes like trading unsafe candy for “safe” candy and planning alternate activities to trick-or-treating.
In efforts to keep the growing number of children with food allergies, and other dietary restrictions, safe on Halloween, consider offering some non-food items like: stickers, pencils, small toys, coins or party favors. Another option is to buy a variety of candy, including some that doesn’t contain peanuts or other top food allergens. You may find some “safe” options on the “Allergy Moms List of 31 Food Allergy Friendly Halloween Candy.”
It is surprising where you’ll find hidden ingredients or allergen cross contamination. For example, most candy corn “may contain” nut allergens, which is why when shopping for “safe” candy for food allergic children, you must read every label, every time. Ingredient labels can change without notice. Different sizes of the same candy (including fun size Halloween candy) can have different ingredients, and different versions of the same candy may have different ingredients. The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) offers more information on the mandatory labeling law for top eight food allergens as opposed to the voluntary “may contain” labels at. You may also want to sign up for their “Special Allergy Alerts.”
If your child has a food allergy, ask your allergist if they are at risk for anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction.) If so, the San Antonio Food Allergy Support Team (FAST) leaders recommend that you always:
- Keep emergency medication with your food allergic child at all times.
- Call 911 if experiencing anaphylaxis and/or using epinephrine (emergency medication/EpiPen).
- Inform all teachers, babysitters and caregivers about your child's condition and give them a written food allergy action plan for emergencies.
- Learn how to avoid allergens by reading all ingredient labels and avoiding cross contamination.
- Teach kids to be proactive and assertive about their own safety.
- Encourage kids to clean their hands before eating.
- Teach children to check labels and follow simple slogans: “When in doubt…do without” and “No label…no thank you.”
If you care about someone with food allergies, give them a treat by helping them stay safe this Halloween. For more information on food allergies, visit The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network at www.foodallergy.org, call (800) 929-4040, or visit www.facebook.com/satxfast.
Written by Susan Tharp, leader of the San Antonio Food Allergy Support Team (FAST), a group of mothers of food-allergic children volunteering to improve the safety of children with life-threatening food allergies. Posted with permission by Deborah Charnes.