The Teal Pumpkin Project: Making Halloween Safer for Kids with Food Allergies
Girish Vitalpur, MD, an allergist and immunologist at Indiana University Health, says every year, some of his patients have allergic reactions ranging from hives to vomiting to breathing problems, usually after eating something with either milk, peanuts or tree nuts.
Halloween is a favorite holiday of the year for children. But for those with food allergies—an estimated 6 million children in the U.S.—taking part in the festivities may result in serious, sometimes life-threatening allergic reactions if a child accidentally ingests a Halloween treat that contains a food they’re allergic to.
Girish Vitalpur, MD, an allergist and immunologist at Indiana University Health, says every year, some of his patients have allergic reactions ranging from hives to vomiting to breathing problems, usually after eating something with either milk, peanuts or tree nuts. “In all of these cases, the child ate the candy before showing it to the parent, and in one case, the child took the candy from the donor, and ate it at the doorstep before even putting it into their bag,” says Dr. Vitalpur. “Epinephrine has been needed for these reactions.”
To help prevent these problems, says Dr. Vitalpur, “some families partner with other families of those with food allergies, and organize a safe trick-or-treat route, or just have a costume party that evening amongst themselves.”
But there’s also another option that’s growing in popularity: The Teal Pumpkin Project, sponsored by Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE). The idea is to provide non-food treats for trick-or-treaters and let people know that you’re participating by placing a teal colored pumpkin in front of your house. Just paint your pumpkin and place it on your front step or porch so it’s easily visible from the street. For fun non-food treats, you can give out glow sticks, tiny bouncy balls, kazoos, stickers, bubbles, pencils or spider rings, for example.
The Teal Pumpkin Project was inspired by a local awareness activity run by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee and was launched as a national campaign by FARE in 2014. Last year, according to FARE, households from all 50 states and 14 countries participated. There’s an interactive online map where you can look for households near you that are participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project, and add your own home or neighborhood to the map.
“The Teal Pumpkin project is an outstanding idea for all families, not just for those with food allergies,” says Dr. Vitalpur. “By using non-food treats for Halloween, all children will be healthier and Halloween celebrations become more inclusive activities.” Here are some other tips from Dr. Vitalpur to help keep children with food allergies safe while trick or treating:
- Talk to your child about the importance of not eating anything before first showing it to a parent. “These discussions need to happen days to weeks before Halloween, not just before going out that night,” adds Dr. Vitalpur. Make sure all caregivers are aware of allergies, as well.
- Accompany your child while he or she is trick-or-treating, and then go through all of the candy or treats given to the child before the youngster is allowed to eat it. “Unfortunately, there can be cross contamination between partly opened candies or treats. So, unless it is tightly wrapped and sealed, with all ingredients clearly listed, do not eat it,” he says.
- Read all labels carefully. Look for terms like “may contain nuts” or “processed in a plant that also processes nuts” since these products can also trigger allergic reactions.
- Don’t assume anything. Some candies that are typically safe in regular full sizes may be dangerous in the smaller “fun” or miniature sizes that are commonly sold around Halloween, again checking ingredients is important. (This is often due to the differing location or method the product is processed in).
- Families need to carry their epinephrine injectors with them at all times.
- If your child has ingested something, act immediately even if he or she does not have a reaction. Sometimes, reactions don’t occur until hours afterwards. So, be proactive.
-- By Patricia Scanlon