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For an Allergy-Friendly Halloween, Go Teal

As Halloween approaches, many families are preparing to have a safe trick-or-treating experience. For families dealing with food allergies, though, trick-or-treating can cause a great deal of anxiety.

Until recently, food allergy has not been an issue that many families have experienced personally. Today, however, 1 in 13 families has a child with food allergies. For those children, eating the wrong treat can cause severe reactions, and in some cases a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis.

As an allergist and parent of a 4-year-old with a peanut allergy, my wife and I have found ourselves fighting a constant battle to ensure that our son doesn’t come into contact with products that may contain peanuts while he’s at school or eating in public places. Halloween is especially challenging for us. We want our son to have fun and not feel different from his friends just because he can’t enjoy certain types of candy. That’s where the Teal Pumpkin Project comes in.

The Teal Pumpkin Project Helps Kids With Food Allergies Celebrate Safely

Launched by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), the Teal Pumpkin Project aims to create a safer, happier Halloween for children with food allergies. This program began with a mother in Tennessee, whose goal was to create an inclusive experience for children with food allergy while trick-or-treating. The Teal Pumpkin Project was inspired by her activism within her community and launched nationally by FARE in 2014.

The Teal Pumpkin Project is so important because, around Halloween, children with food allergy are at greater risk for accidental exposure to foods that may cause a reaction. Common food allergens in Halloween candy include milk, egg, soy, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.

In general, most food packaging lists these allergens. However, many brands of Halloween candy are handed out in small, individually wrapped, or “snack size” packages that do not contain ingredient lists or other allergen content warnings. What’s more, even though a candy does not contain an allergen (peanut-free chocolate candy, for instance), cross-contamination during the manufacturing process can cause trace amounts of an allergen to be present in the candy.

Even trace amounts of allergen can cause serious, life-threatening reactions.

Participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project is easy. You can place a teal pumpkin or sign (teal is the color of food allergy awareness) on your doorstep to signal to trick-or-treaters that you are giving out non-food treats.  Our family has also printed one of the free signs, created by FARE, to place next to our teal pumpkin. There are many signs available, but we selected one that says “You Pick: Candy or Prize” to make it more like a game for the children.

We’ll hand out treats like:

  • erasers

  • crayon packs

  • glow sticks

  • pencils

  • scary rings

  • monster teeth

  • many other treats all ghouls and goblins will enjoy on Halloween night

Handing out these non-food items ensures that all children, including those with food allergies, will find treats they can enjoy safely.

If you have a family member with a food allergy, take a look at the crowd-sourced Fever Map FARE has created. This map will display those homes in your area participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project and you can also add your home to the map!

Right now, our family has the only teal pumpkin on our block, but we are working to spread the word about the Teal Pumpkin Project and are encouraging others to join in. Public awareness of food allergy is increasing, but there is always a need to continue spreading awareness within our communities. My hope is that after reading this, you‘ll know a bit more about food allergies, and will be inspired to spread awareness about FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project in your neighborhood as well.

Learn More: Kids, Allergies and Halloween

Stephen Dinetz, MD

About Stephen Dinetz, MD

Stephen F. Dinetz, MD, joined Nemours Children’s Hospital in August 2016 following a fellowship in pediatric and adult allergy-immunology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University Medical Center. Dr. Dinetz completed medical school and a combined internal medicine/pediatrics residency at the University of Louisville in Kentucky after serving as an armor officer, medical operations officer and hospital administrator in the U.S. Army. Dr. Dinetz is fluent in English and Portuguese and proficient in Spanish.