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Nut Allergies Add Additional Fright to Halloween Night

little kids eating candy after trick-or-treating

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent study says allergic reactions in children spike 85% on Halloween night.
  • Parents of kids with nut allergies should exercise caution on Halloween, and carefully monitor the candy their kids receive.
  • The Teal Pumpkin Project allows homes to designate themselves as allergy-friendly trick-or-treating locations.

Parents of kids with nut allergies find Halloween scarier than most. A recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows allergic reactions spike more than 85% on Halloween.

For most kids, it doesn’t get any better than Halloween. It’s a chance to dress up in fun costumes, run around with friends, and collect lots of candy. But for parents of kids who suffer from severe nut allergies, the night is marred by uncertainty and anxiety.

Why does Halloween pose such a threat?  

The recent study sheds light on this pervasive issue, finding that holidays like Halloween and Easter cause high rates of allergic reactions in kids with nut allergies. The main reason for this is directly related to the very nature of trick-or-treating.

Kerry Jones, MPH, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian and CEO at Milestones Pediatric and Maternal Nutrition says, “Halloween, more than any other food-centric holiday, tends to involve receiving treats that may not be safe for children with life-threatening food allergies from individuals who may not be aware of those allergies.”

Another big risk for children with severe allergies is that those small, treat-sized packages of candy often don’t list ingredients. Instead, the ingredients list will be printed on the outside of the large bag those small packages come in. That makes it difficult for parents to closely examine every piece of candy.

Kerry Jones, MPH, RDN, LDN

Halloween, more than any other food-centric holiday, tends to involve receiving treats that may not be safe for children with life-threatening food allergies from individuals who may not be aware of those allergies.

— Kerry Jones, MPH, RDN, LDN

And for kids with severe, life-threatening allergies, the risk is even greater. That’s because candy that doesn’t contain nuts can sometimes be manufactured in a facility that makes other products with nuts in them, which can pose a risk of cross-contamination

Even in kids who are older, and those who have been well trained to avoid off-limits foods, Halloween can sometimes prove to be too much with all the excitement going on. Indeed, the study states, “anaphylaxis induced by unknown nuts, peanuts and tree nuts was more likely in children aged 6 years or older than in younger children.”

Keeping Kids Safe from Allergies

So what can parents do to prevent their kids from accidentally ingesting an allergen this Halloween? “There are a lot of safety precautions that parents can take to ensure their children are having a safe trick-or-treating experience,” says Jones. Below are some of her suggestions parents can follow for a safe Halloween experience. 

  • Establish a family rule of not eating while trick-or-treating to ensure that you have time to review the food labels 
  • Avoid serving any candy to your children that does not have an ingredients label
  • Make sure to read every food label every time, even if your child has been able to safely consume that candy before. Manufacturers often change ingredients and do not have to provide any warning that they have done so
  • Stock up on safe treats or inexpensive toys to trade for any unsafe candy your child may receive while trick-or-treating
  • Considering letting your neighbors know about your child’s food allergies and offer to provide a small goody bag to give your child on Halloween night
  • Bring your child’s epinephrine auto-injector along with you while your kids are trick-or-treating

The Teal Pumpkin Project

Wondering how you can help other kids with allergies enjoy Halloween without the worry? Consider participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project this year. The movement was started by Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) in order to raise food allergy awareness and to make children with food allergies feel more included and safer during Halloween trick-or-treating, says Jones.

In order to participate, simply paint a pumpkin teal and set it on your porch to let families of allergic children know your house is a safe one. Then, provide a separate basket of treats for the kids to choose from. Consider adding non-candy items, like temporary tattoos, stickers, or fun pencils. It’s a great way to be inclusive on this fun, kid-friendly holiday.

What This Means for You

Halloween, by virtue of the occasion's largely unregulated environment, poses a variety of threats to kids. But that’s especially the case for kids with food allergies. Parental supervision and monitoring are the key to ensuring a happy and safe holiday for everyone.

And if you don’t feel safe trick or treating, consider an alternative fun event on Halloween, like a corn maze, hosting a Halloween party, or going to a haunted house as a family. 

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  1. Leung M, Clarke AE, Gabrielli S, et al. Risk of peanut- and tree-nut–induced anaphylaxis during Halloween, Easter and other cultural holidays in Canadian children. CMAJ. 2020;192(38):E1084-E1092. doi:10.1503/cmaj.200034

  2. Birdi G, Cooke R, Knibb R. Quality of Life, Stress, and Mental Health in Parents of Children with Parentally Diagnosed Food Allergy Compared to Medically Diagnosed and Healthy Controls. J Allergy (Cairo). 2016;2016:1497375. doi:10.1155/2016/1497375