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Many children have life-threatening food allergies, so how do you know what to serve at Halloween parties for kids or to hand out as safe treats to little goblins? Here are some tips for avoiding allergy problems during trick or treat activities.

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Safe Treats, No Tricks, for Allergy-Free Halloween Fun

Halloween can be an extremely challenging holiday for 3 million youths with food allergies who must carefully manage what they eat.

Candies and treats that fill the sacks of trick-or-treaters are potentially life threatening for children who are allergic to common ingredients such as peanuts, tree nuts or milk, according to The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN).

"With all the excitement that surrounds Halloween night, it is critical for children and families with food allergies to be extra diligent about reading ingredient labels for each piece of candy," said Anne Munoz-Furlong, the founder and CEO of FAAN, the world's largest nonprofit organization providing information and educational resources on food allergies. "Common allergens can appear in the candies that you least expect."

One popular brand of licorice candy, for example, contains wheat, another common allergic food item, along with peanuts, tree nuts (walnuts and pecans, for example), milk, eggs, fish, shellfish and soy. The ingredients statement on a chocolate-covered raisin candy may list peanuts.

Some candies carry a "May contain traces of peanuts" on their packaging. "If it's a candy or treat without an ingredient label, do not eat it," Munoz-Furlong warned. "Never assume that a 'mini' version of a candy, which may not have an ingredient label, contains the same ingredients as its full- sized counterpart. Some do not."

To ensure a safe and fun Halloween, FAAN encourages families of children with food allergies to:

  • Create a "candy swap" so that allergen-containing candies can be traded for other treats such as stickers or toys.
  • Take the focus off of trick-or-treating by hosting a costume party that emphasizes fun instead of candy. Halloween stickers, pencils, spider rings and stamps are great alternatives for goody bags.
  • Provide neighbors with allergy-safe candies for your child or ask neighbors to hand out only candy with individualized labels -- so kids with allergies can determine whether the treat is safe to eat or not.
  • Teach children to politely refuse offers of cookies and other homemade treats.
  • Remember that candy ingredients can vary for different sizes of the same product such as full-size candy bars and their miniature versions, which are not always individually labeled.

Children with food allergies (or children who want to help collect funds for research and education) can take part in FAAN's first annual Trick-or-Treat for Food Allergy program. Participating children will be asked to collect coins instead of candy in clearly marked, bright orange Trick-or-Treat for Food Allergy coin boxes. All the coins collected will go to food allergy education and research. Classrooms are also encouraged to participate. Incentives, including Trick-or-Treat for Food Allergy T-shirts and gift certificates, will go to children who raise $25 or more.

For more information about the program, contact Patti Berchoff, 800-929-4040, pberchoff@foodallergymail.org.

A Halloween Party Snack Alternative

Hosting a Halloween event is a great way to ensure that children with food allergies avoid life-threatening food ingredients. For a special treat for your trick-or-treat party try this recipe for Halloween party popcorn balls, free of milk, egg, wheat, peanut, soy and tree nuts. Be sure to read all labels on ingredients before starting.

Halloween Party Popcorn Balls

3 cups miniature marshmallows (read all labels)
6 tablespoons milk-free, soy-free margarine
3 tablespoons plain gelatin
red food coloring yellow food coloring
12 cups of popped popcorn, plain

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt marshmallows and margarine, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat. Stir in gelatin, 4 drops of red food coloring and four drops of yellow food coloring.

In a large bowl, combine marshmallow mixture and popcorn. Stir to coat popcorn evenly.

Using oiled hands, shape into balls.

Suggestion: Wrap popcorn balls in plastic wrap or wax paper and tie with a Halloween-theme bow.

For more recipes or to purchase cookbooks, visit the FAAN web site: http://www.foodallergy.org/

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