The key to a safe and healthy Halloween for those with an allergy is reading labels and staying vigilant. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network, a nonprofit organization and community of nearly 30,000 members, provides support and suggestions for those battling food sensitivities.
"We at FAAN put a lot of effort into supporting our members about how they can manage Halloween because it's such a popular holiday for kids with the focus totally on candy," says FAAN CEO Dr. Julia Bradsher. "For most children with food allergies there's an awful lot of candy that's pretty much off limits for them."
Bradsher suggests if your child will be trick-or-treating, it is crucial to establish ground rules before going door to door. Identify candies that should not be consumed and ask the people in your group to help your child stick to the rules. Some families distribute information to the neighbors in advance to educate others about allergen-free products. If you're way ahead of the game, you can prepare goodie bags with allergen-free candy before the holiday and ask your neighbor to hand out these prescreened treats upon seeing your child.
"What you may want to do before these trick-or-treaters go out is you feed them so they're not hungry and then send them out," suggests Bast. "We have our own candy. You may just want to have a variety at home so they don't feel deprived."
It is also important to remember to read the ingredient label on each candy package, as they may vary. In some cases, the ingredients of bite-sized candy may differ from those used in the regular size of the same candy.
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness recommends the site surefoodsliving.com for information about candy free of many of the top allergens. Top choices include Yummy Earth Organic Lollipops, Jujy Fruits, Jelly Bellys and Super Bubble. While this list provides helpful information as a general resource for parents, every parent should check with his or her child's physician about specific allergies for the best individual guidance.
While there is some candy that does not contain one of the eight allergens, families should make sure ingredients are not derived from allergenic food, or processed in manufacturing plants that also package other foods, which could be harmful. Since Congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004, which took effect in 2006, all foods regulated by the FDA must have labels that clearly establish the source of all ingredients that are -- or are derived from -- the eight most common food allergens.
FDA Director of Food Labeling and Standards Felicia Billingslea is tasked with surveillance and enforcement of the law and ensures that strict oversight provides a safe environment for consumers.
"We are rigorously enforcing the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act. Our investigators, when they are doing their sections, will look to see if allergens are being used, if they're being used appropriately, being labeled," said Billingslea. "It is an area of emphasis for us during our inspections and is a priory of the center and the agency, one of the higher priorities for us."