Unsafe Halloween candy is no treat for kids and their parents this time of year
For Halloween, the treat is a good, fun experience. The trick in making that happen is ensuring candy and other foods handed out to kids are safe. The Oregon Department of Agriculture is offering some common-sense tips for parents this year to help make Halloween a trouble-free event when it comes to food safety.
"Parents should always be aware and vigilant when it comes to monitoring what their children eat, but there might be more concern this Halloween just because of the increased publicity given to food recalls recently," says Will Fargo, ODA Food Safety Specialist. "The bottom line is our candy supply is as safe for consumption as it has been in past years."
In recent weeks, a national recall of peanut butter manufactured by Sunland, Inc. of Portales, New Mexico has impacted several companies that made candy using the peanut butter. That includes Oregon’s own Harry and David. The peanut butter has the potential to carry salmonella. It’s unlikely that any of the recalled products are the type commonly handed out to kids as part of trick or treating. Nonetheless, candy that may have potentially been affected has been removed from the product shelf in the U.S. Parents should not be overly concerned about salmonella this Halloween.
"In general, our food products are scrutinized," says Fargo. "ODA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspects and monitors candy manufacturers in Oregon and across the country."
Despite the reassurance of agencies providing food safety oversight, that same inspection and monitoring process should be extended to parents whose children plan on going door-to-door for Halloween treats. Steps recommended to parents are the same this year as they have been in the past. Some are related to nutrition and child obesity issues. Others relate to food product safety:
- Kids should not snack while they are trick-or-treating. Parents are encouraged to provide a snack or light meal before their children go out. Hungry kids are more likely to indulge their candy appetite early than those with a meal in their tummy.
- Kids should wait until they get home to eat the candy, and only after parents can check all of it to make sure it is safe to consume.
"Look at the candy and make sure it is intact and commercially packaged," says Fargo. "Make sure the candy has not been tampered with, that there is no discoloration, and that the package does not have pinholes, tears, or other signs of damage. If you are suspicious of a food item, simply throw it out."
- Be wary of food that is not commercially wrapped. This includes homemade treats and fresh items that actually may be healthier than candy.
"Unless you are absolutely certain that the source of the food is safe and you trust the person handing it out, it should be thrown out as well," says Fargo. "Fruits commonly handed out during Halloween should also be inspected by parents and then washed to make sure it is safe."
- Check the ingredients in the candy if your children have any food allergies. It is critically important to keep kids with allergies from eating any candy until you know for certain that it is safe.
"A lot of candies contain nuts and dairy products, which can be major allergens," says Fargo. "Even wheat can be an allergen to some kids. Often times, the individually packaged candies handed out to trick-or-treaters are too small to provide ingredient and nutritional information. Concerned parents can either contact the manufacturer, go to that company's website for information, or go back to the grocery store to look at a larger package of the same candy. The information should be there."
- Especially for those with younger children, look for choking hazards that might include hard candy and chewing gum.
- Keep in mind the routine food safety rules that apply to all times of the year.
"As with any foods, candy and other Halloween treats should be stored in a way to protect it from contamination," says Fargo. "Keep it away from any chemicals in the household or any other means of making that food unsafe. And, of course, handwashing is important any time you are eating foods."
With more focus these days on healthy and nutritious foods for children, it's possible that kids will be receiving alternatives to candy more often this year. It is best if those alternatives can be packaged goods, whether it is fruit roll-ups, boxes of raisins, microwaveable popcorn, or hot chocolate mix. Again, checking the packages for any signs of damage or tampering is important.
Parents are advised to develop a Halloween candy plan, which encourages responsible consumption of what the kids bring back.
Advice for Halloween parties is the same for any party where food is served. Hot foods need to be kept hot, cold foods cold. Keeping food in the 40 to 130 degree temperature zone for the shortest time possible is important. One of the best ways to avoid problems is to offer foods that don't require preparation or refrigeration. Smart party hosts provide non-perishable food like potato chips, dried fruit rolls, and uncut fresh fruits and vegetables. Cross-contamination in preparation of the food is always a major concern as well.
It all goes back to exercising some common sense when it comes to Halloween and food safety. American consumers should know that the candy sold in grocery stores today is safe to consume. But after the point of purchase, it's up to parents and kids to take personal responsibility to ensure a food-safe Halloween. Getting involved in the inspection and monitoring of candy and other trick-or-treat handouts is a key part of making the event trouble-free.
For more information, contact Will Fargo at (503) 986-4720.FDA recall informationPDF versionAudio version