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Boo! Food Safety This Halloween

Posted in Food Safety on October 21, 2019

Like the dark figure creeping out of your closet, Halloween is approaching. As a horror writer, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays (the whole month is actually) because of kids dressing up, scary movies, and candy. Yes, now that I am older the candy doesn’t have such a hold on me but I still enjoy the occasional peanut butter cup or caramel apple. But, also being a food safety writer, my favorite time of year and topic have come together today. Let’s talk about Halloween Food Safety.

As responsible adults, it is now our job to worry less about the candy and more about the safety aspect of parties, food, and children. I’m not trying to spoil all the fun but this year lets plan on being more proactive when it comes to food safety. How you might ask? In this time together, let’s look at trick-or-treating safety, focus on food safety issues surrounding this holiday, and finish up with some tips to keep October 31st more enjoyable for us all.

When I was young, trick-or-treat was simpler. We ate our candy without our parents checking it for dangers, we stayed out half the night because there were so many houses to go to, and we worried little about strangers. Nowadays, there is so much to worry about that food safety takes a back seat. So what does it mean to you when we talk about trick-or-treat food safety?

One of the most important practices we can start (if you haven’t already) is to make sure our children are fed before they go trick-or-treating. This will hopefully keep them from snacking on candy until it can be properly checked to make sure it is safe to eat. When home, and after the treats have been looked over, then it will be sugar-high time. It saddens me that in this day and age we have to go to such great lengths on a night of fun and sugary sweets but we all know the dangers.

Another important part of trick-or-treat is making sure nobody eats anything if they have allergies. The CDC states: “food allergies are a growing food safety and public health concern that affect an estimated 8% of children in the United States.” The top eight foods or food groups that make up the most serious allergic reactions are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts.

You already know if you or your children have allergies and have already put in place safeguards to prevent an allergic reaction; but because of home-baked treats as well as store bought ones, the danger increases. Take the time to inspect treats with your children and help them understand what they can and cannot eat.

Halloween parties are a big part of the festivities in some parts and can be a great place for people to be together and not have to worry if the weather is bad. I’m a huge fan of apple cider but I also understand to be careful not to drink cider that is unpasteurized. The same can be said for raw cookie dough – also something I used to enjoy eating. Raw foods carry bacteria and can lead to serious illnesses such as Salmonella. It is a good idea to play it safe and keep away from raw foods during a party.

When entertaining quests, remember to not let food set out for more than two hours. Bacteria starts to grow on food left out and can lead to food poisoning. Trust me, that is not how you want to end a fun night of costumes and food.

While not a favorite game of mine, bobbing for apples seems to have its place during Halloween. To reduce the spread of bacteria, make sure to wash the apples thoroughly as well as the container they will be bobbing in. FightBAC.com has some fun and interesting alternatives if sticking your head in a tub of water is not your thing.

Before the big day arrives, it is a good idea to have a plan in place. Of course, your child’s safety while going door to door is of utmost importance but we cannot be lax in food safety either. Here are a few tips I’ve gathered to improve the evening:

  • Tell children not to accept – and especially not to eat – anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
  • Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.
  • Inspect all treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers.
  • Remember to have kids (and adults) wash their hands before and after eating to prevent foodborne illnesses.
  • No matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of (real) black licorice at one time. If you have been eating black licorice and have an irregular heartbeat, stop eating it and seek medical attention immediately.
  • Keep perishable foods chilled until it is ready to be served.
  • Try to use smaller serving platters for party food, rotating them every two hours and refrigerate any leftovers immediately.
  • There are safe alternatives to handing out candy as well: glow sticks, stickers, temporary tattoos, pencils, bouncy balls, and bubble bottles just to name a few.
  • Be aware there are candies available now that are infused with marijuana or BCD oils. Know the difference and pay attention to packaging. Watch for warnings such as this older one from your local area.

We have already picked out what my little girl will be dressing up as this October, made plans to have a few family and close friends over for a party, and will be waiting closer to the big day before buying candy. Since we live in a large neighborhood we see a lot of kids which is fun.

Having a plan this Halloween can not only keep everyone safe but makes the day more exciting. Take the time to talk about Halloween food safety with your children so everyone is on the same page.

Have a fun and spooky night but as always: stay safe.

By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)