• Gayle Rigione, Allergy Force

Halloween Trick-or-Treat Strategies


mom-in-witch-costume-with-three-adorable-children-in-halloween-costumes

In our family, my oldest child has food allergies while his siblings, who are four years younger, do not.


How you handle Halloween and Halloween treats is a personal decision. I'm sharing two strategies we tried over the years, plus some other strategies, as food for thought. Please pay special attention to the downsides I've surfaced for the strategies we tried.


In retrospect, I'd recommend using the first strategy and have rethought the second strategy we used with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight and my 2021 knowledge base. I debated whether even to include the second strategy in this post, but feel there is a lot of learning value in knowing the downsides.


My hope is that you go into trick-or-treating with eyes wide open. Here's what we did (for better or worse):


#1 The Trick-or-Treat Bag 100% Exchange


1. All three kids would trick-or-treat together. Our family rule was no sampling treats from the treat bags until we got home and exchanged them for mom-approved safe candy.

2. During trick-or-treating, I made sure to have safe treats with me to give the kids if the urge to sample was overwhelming.


3. When we got home, all three kids traded in their treat bags for a fresh one generously filled with safe, mom-reviewed and approved treats, plus a couple non-candy surprises. My kids liked Hot Wheels, small Lego kits, Pokemon cards, playdoh, crayons, costume jewelry.


4. We found it easiest to apply the strategy uniformly to all of our kids, even though our two younger ones did not have food allergies.


5. We stored the candy from trick-or-treating far far away from the kitchen (on the highest shelf in a closet) and donated it to a local retirement home at the earliest opportunity.


Downsides?

1. Cost


This strategy could get a bit pricey.


2. Reluctance to trade


Sometimes tears were shed over 'giving up' the goodies collected from neighbors and a negotiation ensued. However, the non-candy surprises usually clinched the deal.


3. Note to self


In hindsight, beyond remembering flashlights and safe candy for my pocket, I should have also brought wipes to clean my son's hands when I could catch up to him.


#2 The Candy Swap Out


As the kids got older, it was harder to trick-or-treat together since they wanted to share the fun with friends and there was a four year difference between our oldest and the twins. My husband and I would divide and conquer.


1. We maintained the no-nibbling rule and trick-or-treated with reserves of safe candy in our pockets.


2. When we got home, each child would empty their trick-or-treat bag on the family room floor and sort through their haul under my watchful eye.


3. Decision rules (generally, we never allowed eggs or peanuts in our home, but Halloween was, well, Halloween):

  • Unwrapped candy or candy with damaged packaging was thrown away ASAP.

  • Known, safe candy (For us: Starburst, Swedish Fish, Plain Hershey's chocolate bars, Kit Kats, Mike & Ike's, Dots, Skittles, Sour Gummy Worms) was set aside to eat.

  • Anything we knew to contain peanuts, tree nuts or eggs, or that we knew to typically 'May contain' (For us: York Mint Patties, Snickers bars, Almond Joy bars, any kind of M&M's, Hershey's with Almonds, Mr. Goodbar, Candy Corn, etc.) were tossed into a plastic ziploc and stored far far away from the kitchen (on the highest shelf in a closet) until we could donate it.

4. We did a 1:1 trade of safe candy for every piece of unsafe or unwrapped candy that didn't make the cut.


Downsides?


I think this strategy was more risky for my son for a number of reasons, and given a do-over, I am not sure I would have used it. Why?


1. Cross contamination risk


I did not give enough thought to cross contamination risk. Given a do-over, I don't think I would trust that the wrapped, mom-ok'd candy was truly safe for my son with ANA allergies because there was a risk of cross contamination from being co-mingled with unsafe candy in the trick-or-treat bag. Plus we didn't know how the candy had been handled before it was handed out.


2. Candy labeling


MINI's are not always the same as their FULL SIZE counterparts with respect to allergen content/risk.


Different manufacturing processes: I did not realize at the time that mini versions of large candies are sometimes produced on different equipment than the full-sized versions my son safely enjoyed. The equipment used to manufacture mini versions of normally 'safe' candy could be shared with allergens you have to avoid.


Labelling is often MIA on the individual candy pieces: Mini versions may also not be labelled directly on the candy packaging itself — but instead be labelled on the original bag the minis are packaged in for sale. You may have nothing to read to evaluate the product's ingredients. If you can't read the label or review any PAL statements and/or call the manufacturer of the mini versions of your favorite candy, you should not assume it's safe for your child with food allergies.


Fortunately, my son never had a Halloween candy-related reaction, but he easily could have with his ANA sensitivities.


#3 Other Strategies To Consider


1. Candy 'Buy-out'.


Swap out all the candy from trick-or-treating for a penny or a nickel per piece, or for a go at a 'grab bag' for prizes as your budget permits. Oriental Trading was always a good source of non-candy giveaways for us.


2. Be The Party.


Be the go-to house for celebrating Halloween this year. There's still time to plan a party and invite friends and family to share the evening. The beauty of hosting is that you have more control over the eats and treats and can ensure they're allergy-friendly. Halloween games and 'thrills' with non-food prizes can keep guests entertained. Instead of a potluck of food contributions, make it a potluck of games — a wandering gypsy to tell your fortune? Pin-the-nose-on-the-pumpkin? Halloween scavenger hunt? Pumpkin bean {rice} bag throw? Witches Hat ring toss? Eyeball surprise?


3. Attend An Allergy-friendly Trunk-or-Treat.


Some organizations/communities host allergy-friendly Trunk-or-Treat events where your child can trick-or-treat and receive safe, non-food 'treats'. Trunk-or-treat events didn't exist when my son was little.


For example, The Love For Giovanni Foundation is hosting a 'Trunk-or-Treat' event on October 30th in Long Island, NY. And if you can't find one in your community, channel your inner advocate and plan to organize one next year. (The timeline for this Halloween is a little short.)



Wishing you and your little Jedi's, princesses, zombies,

and witches a safe and FUN Halloween


black-cat-illustration-halloween

gayle-rigione-CEO-allergy-force-informal-outside-headshot

About the Author: Gayle Rigione is CEO and Co-founder of Allergy Force, the food allergy app. She’s also an allergy mom. She’s lived the heart stopping moments when her son ate the wrong thing, second guessed reactions and spent the night in the ER. These experiences inspire her to create tools for people with food allergies that make life safer, easier. Whatever you do, do it with a full heart. Audentes Fortuna Iuvat


Image: The Rigione Family (from long, long ago)


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