By Meghan Holohan
For children with food allergies, Halloween usually means they receive far fewer treats than their friends. But this year, their luck may improve if they can spot a teal pumpkin by the doors where they trick-or-treat.
That’s because a new campaign from the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), Teal Pumpkin Project, aims to make Halloween safe for everyone.
“Food allergies are potentially life-threatening. When we are looking at a Halloween celebration, it is really nice to provide something that is safe,” says Veronica LaFemina, spokeswoman for FARE.
LaFemina says that one in 13 children in the United States has a food allergy.
“The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to raise awareness of food allergies by providing non-food treats and painting a pumpkin teal … [which] indicates that house has non-food treats,” she says. Teal is the color for food-allergen awareness.
FARE recommends that families hand out stickers, glow-sticks, vampire teeth, bouncy balls, or spider rings instead of candy, which frequently contain allergens.
“What people don’t understand or realize is that the small candy bars that people pass out for Halloween are manufactured differently,” says Beth Demis, whose 4- year-old son Luke is allergic to tree nuts and coconut. “A regular Hershey bar is okay but a smaller one [is not].”
Demis says she learns this kind of information by being a vigilant label reader and participating in groups where people share information about allergens. But people unfamiliar with food allergies often don’t realize that smaller versions of safe candy are dangerous.
While most parents of children with allergies provide a plan to their children, trick-or-treating remains a chore. FARE recommends that parents fill out an emergency plan with the help of their allergists and make sure they carry all the needed gear, including epinephrine autoinjectors (also known as EpiPens).
“For Halloween time, they are just like other kids and want to dress up and participate,” says LaFemina. “It can be tough when you have to say ‘no thank you’ and trade away most of your candy because it’s not safe.”
Demis, who lives in Cincinnati, says that her three children abide by a long-standing rule: No one can eat any candy until mom or dad examines it. Luke can swap with his brothers for candy that is safe and it is placed in his own plastic baggie. He knows he can’t touch his brothers’ candy.
Katherine Eagerton’s 3-year-old son, Caden, is allergic to soy, milk, strawberries, and tomatoes. He knows he should stay away from food that’s red, but he doesn’t quite understand what having a food allergy means. She’s excited that the Teal Pumpkin Project encourages non-food treats so that her son can enjoy Halloween like other children.
“I’m excited to see that it’s actually catching on,” says Eagerton, who lives outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She’s using Facebook to encourage others in the state to offer non-food items this Halloween.
LaFemina says that 4.5 million people viewed the campaign’s first two posts and they have been shared 44,000 times.
Eagerton says that helping kids with food allergies feel included at Halloween will have a tremendous impact.
“These little treats will make such a big difference,” she says.