Oct. 21, 2019 -- Tracie Andrews has a battle plan when she goes trick-or-treating with her four children, two of whom have food allergies.
She packs in her traveling kit:
- “Safe” candy that won’t cause an allergic reaction in case her kids want something sweet while going door to door
- Wipes in case they touch something that could cause an allergic reaction
- A flashlight for reading candy wrappers as well as seeing in the dark
- And their ever-present meds, EpiPens and Benadryl
“We can’t have any accidents,” says Andrews, a mom blogger in suburban Atlanta.
Andrews says she feels relief when they approach a house with a teal-colored pumpkin on the porch. It signifies the people who live there understand the problem of food allergies and will be giving out non-food treats such as stickers or bubbles.
Getting more of these pumpkins on porches is the goal of the Teal Pumpkin Project.
The project was started in 2012 by Becky Basalone, a mother in Tennessee who ran a food allergy support group. Now it’s run on a national scale by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education), with much of the outreach on social media.
FARE wants to make Halloween inclusive for kids with food allergies, who may feel excluded because many Halloween foods are on their no-no list.
“More and more children are being diagnosed with food allergies, so there are more and more families looking for ways to participate,” says Leah Robilotto, founder of the Food Allergy Institute.
Growing Number of Kids Affected
According to a recent survey from the CDC, the percentage of children up to age 17 who reported a food or digestive allergy in the last year increased from 4% in 2007 to 6.5% in 2018.
Among children under 5, that percentage went up from 4.7% to 5.8%. For kids between 5 and 17, it rose from 3.7% to 6.7%.
Children who eat a food they are allergic to could have reactions ranging from hives, itching, and swelling to life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
FARE urges families to do more than put teal pumpkins in front of their houses and hand out non-food treats. They should also add themselves to the Teal Pumpkin Project Map, an online resource that will help trick-or-treaters find the houses. Steve Maciej, a spokesperson for FARE, said 28,000 families in all 50 states pinned locations to the map in 2018.
Many families with food-allergic children fully embrace the idea. Robilotto, who lives in Sharpsburg, GA, says she puts 15 teal pumpkins outside her home. She buys plastic pumpkins and keeps them from year to year.
FARE says about 32 million people in the U.S. have food allergies -- 26 million adults and almost 6 million children. That's 1 in every 13 children -- about two kids per classroom, FARE says.
The classroom number is important because many elementary schools encourage Halloween activities, such as candy sharing, when food-allergic kids can accidentally be exposed to troublesome treats.
Teal pumpkin advocates stress that they’re not trying to take the fun out of Halloween, but they are trying to keep it fun for kids with food allergies.
Lisa Rutter of Rochester, MI, says she offers non-food treats and “safe” candy -- such as Skittles, Nerds, and Airheads -- when trick-or-treaters knock on her front door. For her own son, she employs the “Halloween Fairy.”
He goes door-to-door collecting candy and wearing gloves because he’s had previous reactions to candy just being in his bag. When he gets home, her son hands over the candy and gets a bag of toys and safe candy in return. Her husband usually takes the given-up candy to his office.
“We’re not saying take away the candy,” says Rutter, founder of the No Nuts Moms Group and an employee at FAACT (Food Allergies & Anaphylaxis Connection Team). “We’re saying give options to kids who might not be able to participate otherwise.”
FARE provides this list of non-candy treats that can be handed out for Halloween:
- Glow sticks, bracelets, or necklaces
- Pencils, pens, crayons, or markers
- Halloween erasers or pencil toppers
- Mini Slinkies
- Whistles, kazoos, or noisemakers
- Bouncy balls
- Finger puppets or novelty toys
- Spider rings
- Vampire fangs
- Mini notepads
- Playing cards
FARE says there are some non-candy treats to beware of because they still contain food allergens. Moldable clay, for example, may contain wheat. And parents should avoid handing out items with latex because some kids have latex allergies. FARE's website has more tips on how to enjoy a teal-colored Halloween.