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How candy can become the scariest thing on Halloween

(Luke Jones/ Flickr)

(Luke Jones/ Flickr)

Halloween can quickly spiral into a nightmare like those depicted in the movies, all because of one simple thing: candy. Candy, the very thing that keeps children afloat during the holiday. The motive behind the walking, knocking and dressing up, the official currency of the evening. Candy, and all the other spooky treats that are handed out, can cause panic among parents and children dealing with food allergies and a lack of information about allergens.

Kids and even adults with allergies may find this time of the year potentially dissatisfying and worrisome. The initial question of “trick or treat?” has to be followed with “Does this have any allergens?” According to Medical News Today, some of the most common allergens are eggs, milk, fish, nuts from trees (hazelnuts, almonds and walnuts), wheat and peanuts.

CNBC found that last year the most popular candies on Halloween were Reese’s, M&M’s, Snickers, Hershey’s and Kit Kat’s. All five of these candies either contain or are manufactured in a plant that also processes at least one of the most common allergens.

The labels on these candies aren’t always legible or may not exist on miniature-sized candies. Because of this, it’s no shock that parents and children are a little hesitant to reach passively into a bucket of potential danger. However, there recently have been innovative movements in Halloween culture that are starting to combat these issues.

For starters, another color has been added to Halloween’s pallet – teal. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) developed the Teal Pumpkin Project. They recognized that one in every 13 children in the U.S. have a food allergy, making this night a bit difficult. Participants in this project place a teal-painted pumpkin outside their home on Halloween to signify that they are an allergen-free household. They opt for non-food treats such as glow sticks, vampire fangs, pencils, bouncy balls and stickers. Kids and parents can leave worry free. Another benefit of treats like these is that they last much longer than a candy ever could.

I look fondly upon Halloween even though my younger brother has severe peanut and tree nut allergies. While trick-or-treating with him, I always assume the role of protective sister. During the annual candy swap, I’d get to hoard all of his peanut-filled delights while willingly giving him some of my most prized non-nutty candies. We both would rather have a pencil decorated in pumpkins than a trip to the emergency room. There are fun ways to spice up Halloween for a kid with allergies, rather than tell them not to go out and enjoy themselves.

What does this mean for college students since Halloween candy will be just as common around campus? As always, it is important to read the labels of candy and do not accept any treat that is unpackaged or lacking an ingredients list.

Dining halls often have festive meals that aren’t typically served during the regular school year. Students should be sure to read the ingredient labels before digging into anything Halloween or fall themed. If you aren’t sure about an allergen, ask a chef at the dining hall.

If you’re a friend cooking up a dessert for everyone, make sure that you are certain of what goes into it. You might even want to keep a recipe or list of the ingredients just in case someone requests it.

Halloween is a holiday where reality is put on pause for a night and people can dress up as whatever they please. Participants should remember that underneath the wrappers are allergens and underneath the costumes are people who could react poorly to them. Stay safe this Halloween.

Tara Branch can be reached at tarabranch@umass.edu.

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