In a short while, children will be celebrating an evening of pretend ghosts, ghouls, and witches. For children with peanut allergies, some of the candies in their Halloween treat bags may be a real danger. Armed with knowledge about peanut allergies, however, parents and neighbours who hand out Halloween treats do not need to go to very much trouble to make the evening safer for many young children.
When we think of allergies, we often think of respiratory allergies that may make us sneeze, or contact allergies that make us itch. Some allergies, like peanut allergies, however, can be life threatening. According to Health Canada, peanuts belong to a group of “priority food allergens” that can produce extremely serious reactions known as anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is an extremely severe and dangerous allergic reaction in which a person experiences difficulty in breathing when his or her throat swells shut. The person may experience a drop in blood pressure, go into shock, lose consciousness, and perhaps die due to respiratory failure. These symptoms generally occur within minutes of exposure to the allergy causing substance. According to Anaphylaxis Canada, up to 2 percent of the population may be at risk of suffering from an anaphylactic reaction.
“Peanut allergy is the most common life-threatening food allergy in children” according to the Allergy/Asthma Information Association’s Peanut and Nut Allergy fact sheet. Unfortunately for people with peanut allergies, repeated contact with peanut products leads to increasingly rapid and more violent anaphylactic reactions.
No one wants to be responsible for making a child ill or causing the death of a child by handing out Halloween treats that contain peanuts or peanut butter. Fortunately, there are alternatives that are readily available. Below, I am providing just a few of the many options that can make Halloween a little safer for children with peanut allergies.
Candy bar manufacturer Nestlé Canada provides specially labelled snack-sized Halloween chocolate bars manufactured in plants where peanuts are not processed. Their Peanut-Free seal appears on packages of Aero, Coffee Krisp, Kit Kat, and Smarties produced in a peanut-free environment. It should be noted, however, that Nestlé’s website warns consumers to check the label with every purchase, as these same brands may at times contain peanuts.
Other confectionary manufacturers are also producing treats that are clearly marked as peanut-free. For example, one can buy Dare Realfruit Gummies produced in peanut-free facilities identified by a peanut-free symbol on the package. In addition, now all Mars Bars manufactured in Canada are also peanut-free. Once again, it needs to be stressed that food manufacturers warn consumers to always carefully check package labels and lists of ingredients.
Monika Gibson with the Ontario office of the Allergy/Asthma Information Association provides numerous tips for Halloween safety. In addition to concerns about peanut allergies, she notes that parents should be aware that some children might be allergic to plastic or latex masks, as well as some face paints. Children with asthma or severe allergies should carry their inhalers or epinephrine with them. Regarding peanut allergies, people can purchase peanut-free sweets (such as those brands listed above, for example), and hand out small non-edible items like stickers, pencils, toys and tokens. And, of course, parents (and in my opinion, this applies to all parents, not just parents of children with allergies) need to sort their children’s treats to ensure that everything is safe.
The Canadian Dental Association (CDA) website, also provides information about Halloween safety, and not surprisingly, recommends altogether avoiding sweets that may harm children’s teeth. Instead, the CDA suggests giving young trick-or-treaters healthy treats that include “sugarless gum, key chains, bookmarks, stickers and sticker books, miniature flashlights and fun jewellery.” I believe that these last items have the added advantage of easily outlasting the short-lived sugar rush that traditional Halloween treats provide.
The author would like to thank the Allergy/Asthma Information Association for its kind and invaluable assistance in preparing this article.
Allergy/Asthma Information Association – http://www.aaia.ca/ – Toll-free: 1-800-611-7011
Anaphylaxis Canada – http://www.anaphylaxis.ca/
The Canadian Dental Association – http://www.cda-adc.ca/
Health Canada – http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/
Nestlé Canada – http://www.nestle.ca/en/welcome_home/welcome_home