Preparing for a Food Allergy-Friendly Halloween in the Age of COVID

Preparing for a Food Allergy-Friendly Halloween in the Age of COVID

Halloween is going to look a bit different for most of us this year. For allergy families, some of those changes may make things a little easier. For example, making a game plan to safely navigate the usual array of treat-laden parties in classrooms and at extracurricular activities will likely be off your plate this year. Trick-or-treat and trunk-or-treat events may look different too, if your community is even going to allow such things. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t need an allergy-friendly game plan. Even if Halloween 2020 takes on a pandemic-preparedness twist, you’ll still need to navigate allergy-related challenges.

The Treats

Okay, yes, we need to talk about the actual treats, but first, let’s talk about the way a COVID-aware Halloween may benefit food allergic families. 

  • Mask-up – Every princess, superhero, black cat, and ghoul is going to be sporting a face mask. While we’ve all (hopefully) become accustomed to this fashion accessory as a means to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus, it can also help remind us to not touch our faces while we’re out trick-or-treating (at least until we’re home and we’ve washed our hands). A face mask isn’t typically a food allergy precaution in and of itself, but while we’re wearing one as a pandemic precaution, we may as well find the food allergic silver lining: it may make it easier to prevent accidental ingestion of food allergens. 
  • No eating – Here’s the thing: when other trick-or-treaters sample their treats along their route, the residue from their candy treats can be transferred to anything else they touch along the way. This could increase the risk of cross-contamination for allergic trick-or-treaters. In addition, it’s not always easy for young allergic trick-or-treaters to have to forgo the quick dive into their treat bucket while they watch everyone else snacking along the way. As sampling becomes discouraged across the board this year, both of those food allergy challenges become less of a factor. 
  • Pre-packaged treats with minimal contact – Your sweet neighbor down the block who offers the neighborhood kids caramel-dipped apples she made herself and the guy around the corner who drops fistfuls of candy in each bucket without giving a young visitor a moment to check out the label will likely have to amend their habits this year. Communities that are allowing trick-or-treating to take place are laying out guidelines about how that hand-off is to happen, and they’re advising a limit on the type of treats that can be handed out. You’ll find pre-packaged, individually wrapped food. You may also find that households will be devising unique ways to set out treats in a manner that allows a contactless hand-off. This means your trick-or-treater can take a moment to see what treats are offered before adding it to their bucket. 

The Real Treats

Now let’s talk about the candy and snacks themselves. This is where your traditional allergy management planning kicks into high gear. Nothing changes here, folks. Head out on Halloween equipped with a game plan and stick with it. 

  • Pre-Game Planning – Start prepping for Halloween weeks before. Set aside time in the candy aisle at your favorite supermarket or big box store and do your homework. You and your trick-or-treaters should review the labels on those giant bulk bags of candy now. Remember, not every fun-sized treat is going to have a full nutritional label. It’s not required as long as the company puts the info on the exterior package. Knowing ahead of time what snacks are safe and which are not will help you select and sort treats later. 
  • Pick Your Second String – Whether you adopt an actual “Switch Witch” or you create a candy trade-in program of your own, make plans to swap out allergen-laden treats for safe alternatives. That might mean all those peanut butter cups disappear in exchange for a bag of sunbutter cups or that the milk chocolate bars get swapped for a new Lego set. Let your trick-or-treater know there’s a trade-in opportunity coming even before you head out the door. If your child is likely to feel frustrated or discouraged by mounds and mounds of unsafe options landing in their bucket, knowing they’ll be able to swap those useless treats for something else later will help keep the experience from becoming frustrating.
  • All Sizes are Not Created Equal – When it comes to food allergies and candy bars, there is a lack of continuity between packaging sizes. For example, your standard size milk chocolate Hershey bar is safe for peanut and tree nut allergic individuals. However, that same example chocolate in it’s fun-sized form (as well as it’s King-sized form!) bears a cross contamination warning for nuts and should be avoided by allergic individuals. Which is to say, don’t assume a fun-sized treat is safe just because its standard sized version is. On the other hand, a full-sized Laffy Taffy lists egg on its ingredient list but the fun-sized version does not. The change in size also includes a change in recipe. You may find smaller versions are safer than their larger alternatives. Lesson here: Check the labels every single time. 
  • Be Prepared – As always, do not leave home without your autoinjector and other allergy medications per your allergy action plans. Even if you think you’re not eating along the way, even if you think the precautions listed above will keep your allergic child safe, even if you can’t see one possible scenario where a reaction can occur, be prepared for one.

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