Food allergies affect 1 in every 13 children (under the age of 18)—approximately 2 kids in every classroom. According to a study released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies increased approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011. See Food Allergy Research & Education for more facts and statistics.
Around Halloween, friends, neighbors, and teachers often ask me for “safe” candy suggestions for people with food allergies or Celiac (requiring a gluten-free diet). Here are my general rules when it comes to buying Halloween candy:
*Read food labels very carefully—I can’t emphasize this enough! The good news is most major candy producers understand that consumers need information about gluten and food allergens, and many companies have improved their food labeling in recent years. Even so, it’s critical to be vigilant about checking labels. The best option for food safety is to select candy made in a facility that doesn’t process the ingredient of concern. Many companies do a very good job of listing a contamination risk on their packaging. They might note something along these lines: “This product was made in a facility that also processes gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, and milk.”
*Buy sugar-based candy since it’s generally safer than chocolate in terms of food allergies. Again, avoid items that are made where the major food allergens (milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts) or gluten are processed. I know it may seem truly icky to give so much sugar to young children, but it’s just once a year!
*Shop early in October and at larger retail stores. Retailers, such as Target, have huge Halloween candy selections and they offer items made by larger manufacturers, which usually do well with package labeling.
*Keep candy bags and packaging. And, consider making a couple of photo copies. Parents of children with food allergies may question the candy ingredients and where the item was made. They might want to look closely at the package information.
Some candy companies have several different production locations. One plant may be safe from a contamination risk, where another plant may not. For this reason, it’s best not to issue a list of what’s considered “safe.” Also, unfortunately companies don’t always list allergen safety information on their websites. The most reliable information is on the package itself. If an item is made where risk exists, then the package will note a warning. Kids with Food Allergies lists useful guidelines on their website regarding Halloween candy food labels.
Understandably, some people feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of label reading. For those struggling with what candy to buy, consider having some non-food items ready for trick-or-treaters. Festive stickers, small toys, and colorful pencils are usually a big hit with young kids.
At our house we give trick-or-treaters—surprise, surprise—Lucy’s cookies! Along with Lucy’s Snack n’ Go Packs, we hand out a variety of sugary candy that doesn’t have allergen warnings on the packages.
And for my own special trick-or-treater, I purchase online in advance chocolate candies that I know are safe. This way he will have a post-Halloween chocolate bounty like his friends do!
Also, quite a few of our wonderful neighbors usually have an allergy-safe treat stashed aside for my son on Halloween night. They might hand out candy made with wheat, milk, eggs, and nuts to the other kids, but they carefully plan ahead—a key thing to do when it comes to dealing with food allergies—and provide a special treat just for him. We appreciate it so very much.
I hope that you, too, will remember your friends with food allergies this Halloween. Be safe!