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Halloween and Peanut Allergies

Our daughter, who is almost two, went trick-or-treating for the first time this year. She's allergic to peanuts, and after she went to bed we ended up discarding about 80% of the candy in her bag. Some of it was obvious: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (which I love and used to give out myself!), peanut M&Ms, etc. Other stuff we got rid of due to the almost-ubiquitous "may contain traces" warnings. That left a package of Skittles, a Mounds bar, a lollipop, and a tangerine. We replaced the missing candy with leftovers from the treats we gave out.

Does anybody have advice on dealing with this problem? This year, she is too young to realize that we tampered with her bag, but next year I doubt we'll be so lucky.

The whole thing made me sad -- and retroactively guilty for having given out PB cups in the past.

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  1. I'm highly allergic myself, and yeah it sucks but you just learn to deal. I think it's great that you replaced her stuff with things she can eat. My advice to you is as soon as she's old enough start involving her in the whole process of identifying what things she can and cannot eat. It takes some creativity sometimes to get around the stuff I can't have, but I've been doing it for as long as I can remember, and now it's second nature of course. I've never felt bad about it - it's just part of life. She sounds lucky to have parents who are so concerned :)

    1 Reply
    1. re: enbell

      Exactly. Get her involved asap. My granddaughter is 10 and has the same life threatening allergies and, by the time she was 5, she knew what questions to ask the server in restaurants.

    2. As she gets older and goes out with other friends perhaps she could do some trading as well?

      I'm glad i read this post because peanut allergies ARE getting more prevalent (as can be seen at my child's preschool) and it's nice to be sensitive to it for when we give out treats for next halloween.

      2 Replies
      1. re: fudisgud

        They are indeed really growing in prevalance. My Mom has only given out nut-free/safe treats since my nephew was diagnosed with his nut allergy as a baby.

        (edited to add that I mention my Mom because I have lived in apartments my whole life and we don't have trick-or-treating, but if we did, I'd buy nut-free products as well)

        1. re: rockandroller1

          Still, it's only about 1% prevalance. Which is a big increase over a generation ago. Still the absolute numbers are small.

      2. My nephew is nut-allergic too. FYI, I don't think the Mounds is safe, I don't think any of those candies are safe because they are produced in plants with other nut products - look at Almond Joy and Mounds, for example.

        My sister goes with him and they explain they are collecting the candy for charity and she holds the container. Often she will explain if someone tries to directly hand him the candy that he is nut allergic. They still get the dressing up and trick-or-treat experience. Then they deliver it to the charity the next day. They buy him his own nut-free treat for spearheading an altruistic task. As a result, he is now 11 and altruism comes naturally to him, without someone leading him to it. I think this is a win-win way to handle it.

        1. My cousin has a severe peanut allergy. This company is a great resource for nut-free candies -- they do novelty candy for all occasions. It's really important to involve your daughter in the process of finding out what she can and can;t eat, as one of the other posters says here. www.vermontnutfree.com

          1. M&M Jfood taught the kids when they were very young that after collecting candy for Halloween, most would go to less fortunate children and the last stop was to drop off the candy at a shelter or collection site. They were allowed to keep a few pieces for their enjoyment. The first few years were tough but they began to understand that they are firtunate and that they need to have a charitable heart. Likewise the end of December lead to lots of trips to shelters and homes and they now gain great pleasure in playing Secret Santa. The DNA has been turn on.

            So jfood would recommend combining the learn to give with the allergy discussion. Explain that many children are less fortunate, it is a wonderful thing to help them out and that they need to give some, most of the candy they collected to others. But you need to be careful in not telling them that the only candy they give are those they are allergic to. They will not truly learn the lesson if they are only giving the candy that would be thrown out. They need to give away some of the "keepers".

            And having allergies is not fun, jfood has a nut (but not peanut) allergy and as others have said, you just have to learn and cope.

            But in the end you have the chance to teach your children giving to others while teaching them about their allergies.

            1 Reply
            1. re: jfood

              What a great solution to this problem. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade.

            2. Thanks for all the good ideas and resources. And rockandroller -- yes, if you're allergic to tree nuts (as opposed to or in addition to peanuts) then no commercial candy is safe. Our daughter isn't allergic to tree nuts, though the allergist has advised use not to give her any, since exposure to the proteins, which are similar to peanut proteins, might case her to develop an allergy to tree nuts as well. I'm very vigilant about even trace amounts of peanuts, but I'm a little less strict about trace amounts of tree nuts, since she's not actually allergic to them.

              As a coda, our daughter seems almost completely uninterested in eating her candy. We've been doling it out a piece at a time, and most of the time she does no more than taste it and play with the wrapper. Maybe I have corrupted her tastes by sharing my high cocoa solids chocolate with her. She loved trick or treating, and I hope we can continue to make it mostly about the costumes and going around from door to door, rather than the candy.

              As for non-peanut alternatives, a few years ago I gave out stickers, and they were surprisingly popular ("oooh, stickers!"). I had forgotten about that this year, but maybe I'll try it again in the future.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jlafler

                We get hardly any trick or treaters at our house, so I don't bother to buy a bag of candy. Instead, I just pass out bags of microwave popcorn. You wouldn't believe how excited some of the kids get about that!

              2. In Canada, we have nut-free halloween chocolates (Kit-Kat, Coffee Crisps, Aero, Mars). They are specifically made in a nut-free facility. I don't know if they are available where you are. If they are, I would just offer a swap. Otherwise, I like jfood's idea of donating the candy. Other ideas would be trading the candy for a new toy/book.

                My husband's nephew is highly allergic to peanuts. He has been aware all his life (been to the hospital a couple times, carries an epi-pen everywhere). He is 5 and he is still very tempted and would try and eat candy and cookies behind the parents' back. It can be very difficult for a child to grasp the idea of how sick they can get.

                1. There's a really great article/review in last week's SCIENCE journal discussing the mysteries and new ideas about what causes peanut allergies.

                  Certainly the increasing frequency of peanut allergies.... and other environmental allergies/asthma/eczema.... is an area of intense interest and research in the medical community. The current recommendations from pediatricians have been to slowly introduce foods to babies/young children, avoiding ones that are thought to be "highly allergenic" (foods that a lot of people develop allergies to) until the children are older. For example, no peanuts until age 3. The rationale being that one can't become allergic to a food without being exposed to it (you have to understand a bit of immunology to explain this idea in more detail...), and that the immune systems of older children are "more mature" and can "better tolerate" the allergen.

                  However, the evidence for this hypothesis is actually very minimal, but as peanut allergies can be very severe, most pediatricians just stick with this recommendation.

                  What research is starting to show is that allergies are very complicated - they reflect a combination of your genes, whether you were breast fed, and how you are exposed to the potential food allergen as a baby (ex. peanuts as a food, or how about peanut oil in a baby lotion), among other factors. And one current theory that is stirring up interest (which almost sounds like the opposite of the old lore) - is that AVOIDING potential allergens inappropriately may make you more susceptible to developing an allergy.

                  This is related to the "hygiene hypothesis" - that exposing your body to pathogens/potential allergens/even dirt! early in life, actually trains the immune system to regulate itself better (hence, fewer allergies). Isn't it funny that allergies are just exploding today, as our communities have become "cleaner" and as parents, we are more and more careful about following our pediatricians food recommendations..... (?did our mothers do that).

                  Studies several years ago were asking - why to kids in cities develop asthma far more frequently then the kids living out on the farm? Is being exposed to lots of grass/dust/cow-poop on the farms since birth actually protective in some way? Maybe.... we're too hygienic now?

                  In Israel, apparently a peanut-flavored puffed snack called Bamba is very popular, and children may start eating it when they are as young as 6 months. Guess what their frequency of peanut allergy is? 0.04%. What is our frequency of peanut allergy? 1%. Obviously, other factors (ex. genetic) could be at work here, but this is very interesting.

                  There is some consideration that babies may be exposed to miniscule doses of peanut oil via lotions that are used on their skins (which can still get absorbed into the body in very tiny amounts), while their parents are actively avoiding feeding them peanuts (which gets absorbed via the gastrointestinal tract rather then the skin, obviously). There are some questions now as to if the "mini-innoculations" via the skin may actually sensitize you more to become allergic in the future, while small samples of a potential allergen by eating it may be better for you (ie. more protective).

                  To help answer these questions, we must be scientists and design the correct "clinical trial" to see what happens if we careful control exposures to potential allergens in young children.

                  There are studies ongoing in the US and the UK following "high-risk" babies (i.e. high risk for developing allergies - maybe because others in their family have allergies?) and breaking them up into two groups - one will be given small doses of peanuts regularly as they grow-up (eg. peanut butter mixed with banana) while the others will not be exposed to any peanuts to eat. They will to follow these kids as they grow up (for up to 7 years), and see who develops peanut allergies more frequently. I look forward to seeing those results!

                  Sorry... too much information, I'm sure. Disclaimer - don't worry - I don't work in this field, or for any peanut company.

                  I'm just very intrigued as to why allergies are so frequent these days. I am allergic to everything - grasses, molds, just about every animal etc...-- except for foods (thank goodness). Fortunately, my allergies do not affect my life at all (don't rub your eyes... don't rub your eyes...). But I wonder.... is my health at all related to the fact that I was born in Chicago, grew up in an apartment building and never had a pet, but ate an incredible assortment of foods from infancy (all thrown in a blender)? Perhaps, to some degree....

                  Regardless, food allergies can be really awful, and can have a very significant impact on quality of life - as anyone who has a life threatening allergy knows. If we could figure out how to avoid developing these severe allergies, that would be wonderful.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: violin

                    This is a great post and something along the lines of what I've wondered about. However, I think there really aren't that many women out there actively, for example, avoiding peanut products when PG or BFing. Rather, I think it has something to do with a change in the American diet and it's rejection of all the additives and processing. For example, how everything has corn in it now, from a hot dog bun to the hot dog itself. I wonder if overdosing on corn since it's in everything we eat is causing the immune system to go haywire or something.

                    1. re: violin

                      Is the SCIENCE article online, and if so, could you post the url? Thanks.

                      One thing to keep in mind is that it's virtually impossible to exert absolute control over what a child eats once they become mobile. My daughter is very interested in food and likes to taste new things; she also seems to suspect that whatever other people have must be better than what she has. She can be quite the little begger when she sees other kids at the playground eating their snacks -- I turn around to get something out of the stroller, and when I turn back, she's about to put something in her mouth that I didn't give her! I think that may be how she first got exposed to peanuts. And then there are things like birthday parties, and lunch at a friend's house, and so forth. It may be hard for researchers to control things like that.

                      My understanding of the hygeine hypothesis is that it's being exposed to viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms, not to potential allergens, that trains the immune system. Anyway, I'd be interested to read the article.

                      1. re: violin

                        Yes, Puleese post the URL or at least the proper name of the publication.
                        For no scientific reason I give creedence to the 'hygiene' hypothesis and its relatives. We didn't have so many 'antibacterial' cleaners when I grew up, maybe that's why I don't get sick very often. Perhaps if hospitals weren't so meticulous we wouldn't have to worry about MRSA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methicil... ..
                        Now back to the topic...
                        I'm peanut allergic but not deathly so. I survived many years of airline travel with peanut dust in the cabin. Just felt queasy, nothing more.

                      2. My daughter is allergic to nuts and to red food dye. My son has braces. It makes Halloween limiting. But, when you come down to it, even when you take out the stuff they can't have, they still get far more candy than they need, especially as they get older. We give ours away--their old school collected it for shelters or my husband takes it to work. When they get home from trick or treating, I have them sort their candy and we give things they can't eat away and they get what we're giving away. I also buy them their favorite candy that they can have (my daughter has organic dye free lollipops and gummy bears, my son likes endangered species chocolate). I think it's better to have a little of what you love than a lot of so-so stuff. A friend of mine lets her children have some candy and then at night the candy fairy comes and takes it away and leaves a gift. I wouldn't feel guilty about having given out pb cups in the past. No matter what you give out, foodwise, there will always be some child who can't eat it whether it's nuts, corn, dairy, dyes, whatever.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: chowser

                          When I saw endangered species chocolate I thought it was chocolate covered endangered insects :)

                        2. For a situation like Halloween, I think it behooves the person (and the parents) who suffers from allergies to be alert. It's really impossible for the general public who are handing out candies to be aware of every allergies there are of children coming up to their doors.

                          1. Guilty? Good heavens, why? Peanuts aren't evil or immoral, they're just something your daughter can't tolerate. It's a bit of luck that "mystery candy" has almost universally been replaced by wrapped name-brand items at Halloween, so you and your daughter can learn by sight which items are just not good for her.

                            My son has a parallel situation, Crohn's, and being unable to tolerate certain foods is just something he had to accept whether he was unhappy about it or not - it was a hard lesson, but learning it made him stronger. Sad? Yeah, it almost breaks my heart sometimes (he takes it with much more equanimity than I do, now) but life isn't all happy, and that's just the way it is.

                            PS - don't pitch the offending items, find someplace that will accept them.

                            1. For those who were interested on the recent article about variables that may contribute to developing peanut allergies (see my prior post above), it was published in the journal SCIENCE (Nov. 2, 2007 issue). This journal is an excellent source for scientific information, and is one of the top scientific journals in the world. Unfortunately, if you do not have a subscription, I doubt this link will get your through..... If you work at a university, hospital, or government office, it is possible that your business has a subscription and your computer may allow you access.


                              Although most of the articles in this journal are very complicated if you are not a scientist in the field, this review article is much easier to follow and is written for a wider audience.

                              Perhaps, I shouldn't have posted something so detailed about a medical/scientific issue. However, I really enjoy this site as a food lover, and thought it might be of interest, as I have seen discussions on this tangential topic many times. But as a scientist and physician, I get very concerned when I see how many posters put up personal conjecture or things that are simply wrong with little or no data to back them up. Just remember - for all things relevant to your health, go to your doctor and be an aggressive advocate for your personal safety and care. And when you are reading about a medical or scientific issue, always question whether the data is from a reputable and reliable source. A good approach to life, in general.

                              that's all.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: violin

                                I cannot access the link provided as a non-member. What was the article's take on the link between peanut allergies and dry-roasting peanuts?

                                1. re: cookie_eater

                                  Sorry cookie..... access to these academic journals can be such a pain.

                                  Yes, they mention a bunch of the variables that are possible contributors to developing peanut allergies, including how the peanuts are prepared. Most peanuts in the West are prepared by dry-roasting, and people wonder if that prep method may be more allergenic then boiling/frying. The later preps are used more commonly in Africa and Southeast Asia, where peanut allergies are much more rare.

                                  Most likely a combination of factors contribute to your allergy risk - your genes, how you are exposed to peanuts (when, in what form, and via what delivery route), and other stuff.....

                                  I haven't been able to find any ongoing clinical trials testing the boiled vs. roasted theory, but I suspect they are in the works.

                              2. My sister, who has a peanut allergy, used to get an allergic reaction to eating plain M&Ms. This was before they started posting the "may contain trace elements" warnings.

                                After she had a few allergic reactions (not recommending this at all) she was very vigilant about not eating nuts. Bummed understandably, but alive. After halloween, we would swap out candy. I gave her my Milkyways and she gave me her Snickers.

                                I think having a stash of supplimental candy is a great idea. Also maybe doing a candy swap after/ giving away the surplus.

                                1. Fun night for some kids... a horrific night for others !


                                  1. In the future, I think your best bet is to buy a variety of safe candy pre-emptively, and swap with the candy she collects. Pass the collected candy on to someone else (or take it into work). I'd be completely open about the process - she'll know pretty young that some foods aren't safe for her to eat.

                                    That way she gets the fun of trick-or-treating, and still gets the goodies, but is safe.

                                    I wouldn't necessarily count on trading with friends, though, as her friends may not want to give up all their safe treats. I remember that certain hand-outs were considered prime, and others not so desirable.

                                    And of course, hand out safe stuff yourself.

                                    1. My 5 yr old knows she is allergic to walnuts and tree nuts. I don't know how and why but she somehow learned that eating those products will make her choke and die so whenever she eats something, she always asks me if it has walnuts in it..it's the strangest thing. And if it does have walnuts, she doesn't even go near it even if it is her favorite chocolate.
                                      Good luck.

                                      1. Since this is an old thread, your daughter is about 8 now and has probably grown used to not eating the candy others eat.

                                        My son, now 16, has a peanut allergy, but he never missed any of the chocolate treats because he never had them to begin with. From the very beginning, we'd encourage him to trade his unsafe stuff with his sister for her candy corn, lifesavers, etc. They'd do this happily. Then a few days later the "candy fairy" would pay a visit, leaving a toy, but taking the leftover candy to give to the less fortunate (and sometimes the town dump, shhhh!!)

                                        The hardest thing for us is not having peanut butter in the house. Even though he wouldn't go near it, it has a tendency to stick to everything and just seemed too risky so I decided not to allow it. If my daughter wanted it, she'd get it at school or at her friends' houses, and I used to have a colleague who'd bring me PB&J sandwiches at work!

                                        It's not a fun allergy to have, but, as we say in this house, it's not cancer.

                                        1. My nephew is nut-allergic. Every year since he was big enough to go ToTing, they collected candy and then turned it in to a local charity. My sister made my nephew his own small bag of candy from items she knew were safe.

                                          I thought this was such a good practice I have done it with my own son since he was born. We collect for a homeless youth shelter, keeping a very small amount for him at home. Candy isn't good for anyone, but the kids in this shelter have a really crappy life and it brings a ray of sunshine into their day. They get a lot more joy out of a big bag of candy than we would, and we don't need it.