Today on Salubrity, we’re featuring a guest blog on Halloween candy from my colleague, Dr. Michael Pitt. Enjoy!
– Dr. Karen Sheehan
By Michael Pitt, MD
Each year, as the aisles in the stores turn orange and black and childhood’s greatest transaction — earning a bagful of candy simply by donning a costume — draws closer, parents often begin to worry about the risk that their child’s bag of goodies will contain dangerous tricks instead of the promised treats. Many recall hearing horror stories of razor blades or needles hidden in chocolate bars, and as we prepare to send out our costumed kids, it is important that we ask ourselves just how real this fear is.
It turns out that since the 1960s, nearly all of the stories of Halloween sadists — one who would anonymously give dangerous candy to children — turned out to be hoaxes brought about the children or parents. In fact, there is only one documented case of true random tampering when a man in Minnesota was caught putting pins in chocolate bars in 2000, and thankfully, no one was injured.
As is often the case with urban legends, only a morsel of the story has truth, but it’s enough to spread fear. In 2001 for example, a 4-year-old little girl died in Vancouver the day after eating her Halloween Candy prompting the police department to recommend throwing away all treats. A less publicized follow-up story showed she had in fact died of a streptococcus bacterial infection that was in no way related to Halloween candy.
Yet despite the fact that cases of tampered candy are extremely rare, there are some steps families can take to ensure safe candy consumption this Halloween:
- Children with food allergies require special supervision when trick-or-treating as nuts, dairy, and chocolate — some of the most common foods children are allergic to — are hard to avoid when going door to door.
- Many candies and Halloween treats are unsafe for young children as they pose choking risks. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that both whole peanuts and popcorn not be given to children under the age of seven because of the ease with which they can be aspirated into the lungs, and the damage that can ensue. Hard candies and gummy candies should also be avoided in young children because of the risk of choking.
- Children should avoid eating candy while trick-or-treating, as it is often dark and difficult to see what’s being eaten. A good meal before trick-or-treating is one way to keep the candy consumption at bay while en route.
- Again, despite the extreme rarity of candy tampering, if candy appears to have been unwrapped, throw it away — even if it’s your child’s favorite.
- Avoid over-consumption of candy by attempting to ration it over the next several days. Keep the candy out of reach, and allow only a few treats per day.
Have a happy and safe Halloween!
Dr. Michael Pitt is a general pediatrician in Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago‘s Division of Hospital-Based Medicine and the director of Global Health Education for the residency program.