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October 25, 2016

Surviving Halloween with Food Allergies

By Licensed Dietitian, Elizabeth Elam MS, RD, LDN


In just a few days, goblins, witches, and superheroes will scurry about our neighborhood’s streets.  They’ll sprint to every door step, ring the doorbell, shout “TRICK OR TREAT”, and then dig their hands into large orange pumpkin containers full of tempting treats.  Look closely and you might find a few houses with large teal pumpkins instead of orange.  Are they just trying to be different?  Or do they just like the color teal?  In fact, there is a very good reason for that teal colored pumpkin.

The Teal Pumpkin Project caters to children with food allergies and was created so all children can have a safe and happy Halloween.  Many children, 1 out of 13 to be exact, are affected by food allergies.1 For these children, Halloween can be a frustrating holiday.  While other kids are enjoying and trading their candy, children with food allergies are spectators, forced to throw much or all of it away. From a parent’s perspective, Halloween can be a dangerous holiday – testing the trust you have in your child to not eat any of the candy, or meticulously reading labels and researching Hershey, Mars, and Wonka websites for allergen statements.

A food allergy is different than a food intolerance.  While an intolerance may bring about symptoms such as abdominal cramping, gas, bloating, and diarrhea, an allergy involves the immune system.  The body’s immune system is meant to identify and destroy things in the body that might cause disease, such as a bacteria or virus.  A food allergy is the result of the body’s immune system attacking a food protein, mistaking that protein as a bacteria or a virus.  Antibodies are the “warriors” in this attack and the specific antibody or “warrior” that is used against food proteins in the body is called immunoglobulin E or IgE.  IgE antibodies release histamines and other chemicals that trigger the physical reaction or symptom.  Dermatological and/or gastrointestinal symptoms, such as hives, itchy mouth, diarrhea, or vomiting are mild symptoms of a food allergy.  More severe symptoms target the respiratory system and can be life threatening.  Anaphylaxis, a symptom that affects the respiratory and circulatory system, is the most severe.1

The top eight food allergens are milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy.2 The top five Halloween candies (Reese’s, M&Ms, Snickers, Hershey’s and Kit Kats) contain five out of those eight allergens: milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts.3,4 Sometimes, the specific allergens are unrecognizable.  Take the nougat in candy bars, for instance – nougat contains eggs.  And who would know that an Airhead contains soy?4 For this reason, candy is usually off limits for children with food allergies.

The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages households to place a teal pumpkin outside their door on Halloween symbolizing the offering of non-food treats to children with food allergies. has a long list of inexpensive, non-food treats including glow bracelets, pencils, bouncy balls, stickers, and bubbles.5 The FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) website has downloadable signs, flyers, and stickers to help trick-or-treaters distinguish between candy and non-food items.6

This Halloween take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project to make the holiday one that every child can enjoy.  Or, take it a step further and offer only non-food treats for a healthy change!


1.)    About Food Allergies. Food Allergy Research & Education Website. Accessed October 15, 2016

2.)    Allergens.  Food Allergy Research & Education Website. Access October 15, 2016

3.)    Courtney Nachlas. The 25 Most Popular Halloween Candies in America. The Daily Meal: All Things Food & Drink. Published September 6, 2016.  Accessed October 15, 2016.

4.)    Allison St. Sure. Sure Foods Living. How to navigate Halloween with food allergies (2011).  Practical Advice For Living With Celiac Disease, Gluten Intolerance, Food Allergies. Published October 13, 2011. Accessed October 15, 2016.

5.)    Ideas for Non-food Treats. Food Allergy Research & Education Website. Accessed October 15, 2016.



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