October 30, 2014

Vanderbilt experts offer advice for trick-or-treating with food allergies


Ghosts, skeletons, zombies and vampires will emerge this Halloween to strike fear into the hearts of trick-or-treaters, all in good fun. But for some children, one of Halloween’s most exciting traditions presents an issue that can strike true terror into the hearts of their parents—food allergies.

According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology (AAAAI) of the 8 percent of American children who have a food allergy or intolerance, nearly 40 percent have a history of experiencing severe reactions to their allergy. For example, they might develop anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal condition in which the body can go into shock, after ingesting—or in extreme cases, even inhaling—the allergen.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a marked increase in the number of children with food allergies over the last decade. The most common of these allergens include peanuts, the reaction to which can be quite serious, dairy and gluten—all commonly found in candies or in the food plants that process them,” said Martha Upchurch, RD, LDN, CDE, registered dietitian with the Eskind Diabetes Pediatric Clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“For children with food allergies, supervision is key,” said Ryan Rafacz, RD, LDN, registered dietitian. “If you aren’t going to trick-or-treat with them, make sure that the adults they are with are aware of their allergy and make sure your child knows what they can and cannot eat.”

Rafacz also advises parents to bring along safe treats when going to trick-or-treat and cautions children with food allergies to wait until they return home to eat any candy. At that point parents should thoroughly check the candy—making sure to read the exact ingredients and whether it was processed in a plant that also processes the offending food. Another way to keep children safe, he adds, is to simply put a nametag on their costume that notes their allergy or intolerance.

For residents expecting trick-or-treaters, Upchurch notes that there are several things they can do to ensure the experience is fun and safe for all children. First, to avoid confusion and a potential mishap should a child with an allergy arrive at the door, it is best to have one type of treat to give out. Having two separate groups of treats, one being any of the typical candies and the other being allergen-free treats, can be hard to keep up with and increases the chance a child might leave with something to which they are allergic.

Upchurch further explains that finding treats to which most children would not be allergic does not have to be difficult, expensive or boring for the children to receive. Some examples of treats she suggests are:

  • Caramel or candy apples;
  • Glow-in-the-dark toys or jewelry;
  • Squeezable fruit pouches;
  • Stickers;
  • Sugar-free candies and gums;
  • Popcorn balls.