With some of our own kids at Cool Mom Picks grappling with peanut and tree nut allergies that range from mild to life-threatening, we really have a heightened awareness of making Halloween fun and safe for all kids. If you don’t have children with allergies yourself, but want to make sure classroom friends and neighborhood kids are in good hands with you on Halloween, here are some helpful tips.
1. Read the labels
This may sound obvious, but before you hand out candy to a kid with an allergy to peanuts or tree nuts, check the ingredient list. FoodAllergy.org has great lists of ingredients to avoid for peanut allergies or tree nut allergies that may not jump out to you at first–things like gianduja, lychee, mandelonas, marzipan and praline. Oddly, coconut is classified as a tree nut by the FDA (sigh) but it’s a fruit, and many people with tree nut allergies can safely eat it.
2. Don’t stop at reading the labels!
Keep in mind that FDA labeling will warn you if tree nuts or peanuts are intentional ingredients in a candy, but that alone might not tell you whether a candy is safe.
Not all companies follow FDA guidelines for labeling. And the FDA does not require companies to label for accidental ingredients. For example, if a plain chocolate candy is made on shared equipment with a peanut butter candy, and there is a chance that a little peanut butter could have been mixed in with the chocolate, there is no law that says that a MAY CONTAIN PEANUTS warning needs to be on that label.
Know this: The companies that use warning labels are doing so voluntarily.
This distinction can be essential to kids with severe allergies. To find out whether a particular candy is truly nut-free, check with the allergic kid’s parents, call the company, check a trusted safe candy list, or buy from an allergy-safe candy maker.
3. Stick with trusted brands
Divvies has been a favorite resource for a while, with gourmet dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free treats including gummies, cookies and even special Halloween chocolates like chocolate bats and chocolate ghosts. They are pricy, though, so they’re probably best for party favors and not handing out to the entire neighborhood.
For that, you may want to try Yummy Earth, makers of lollipops, gummies and jellybeans that are not only free of peanuts and tree nuts–they’re free of all of the top eight food allergens including dairy and soy. And they’re free of artificial colors and flavors, too, which we think all parents will love.
Gimbal’s Candy is another good source for safe treats including the sour jellybeans our kids adore.
As far as Halloween classics go, mainstream brands you can hand out include Twizzlers, Junior Mints, York Peppermint Patties, Starburst, Haribo Gummi Candies, Tootsie Pops and Tootsie Rolls, Jolly Ranchers, Skittles, Whoppers, SweeTarts and Dum Dums lollipops.
For even more safe candy options, Snack Safely, a resource created by the parents of a child with multiple food allergies, offers an updated list of peanut-free, tree-nut-free and egg-free candies for Halloween. The Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board also has a comprehensive nut-safe candy list that’s up to date for 2014.
4. Create separate bowls for trick or treaters
If you’re not prepared to give up your Reese’s cups, here’s a cool idea: More and more we’re noticing neighbors with two bowls out. One is labeled “candy with nuts,” and one labeled “tree nut-free.” Just make sure if you do this that you’re careful to keep the candies totally separate before you put them in the bowls, to avoid any mix-ups.
5. Know that mini-size candies are not made the same as big ones
“Fun-size” candies made for Halloween aren’t individually labeled, which can be a challenge. For example, brands like Hershey make their regular-sized chocolate bars nut-free, but the minis are reported to be made on the same line as products with nuts.
6. Skip candy altogether
Before you call us Halloween scrooges, we’re not talking apples or toothbrushes. We’ve noticed that when our kids get to choose from a bag filled with candy, glo-sticks and plastic spider rings (like these, made from Anders Ruff Halloween party printables) they more often than not go for the glo-sticks and rings. Check out our roundup of cool food-free treat ideas, and you just might find they give you the reputation as the best place to trick-or-treat on your block.