With Halloween just around the corner, stories about poisoned candy and razor blades found in treats are again in circulation. So what precautions should parents be taking to protect their children during the spooky holiday?
Across the board, checking Halloween candy before consumption is always suggested. Shelly Van Dorin, the director of Henry County Public Health noted that as a base rule, parents should throw away any homemade treats or products that are not purchased pre-wrapped, but certain things can be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“It depends on where you get it. If you get a piece of fresh fruit from a neighbor that you trust, that’s different,” Van Dorin noted.
“There’s really no cut and dry answers, which is unfortunate but to be completely safe, I wouldn’t eat fruit or anything that isn’t wrapped … I mean, if there’s any doubt, I would throw it away. It’s not worth it,” she added.
The public health director also reminded parents to consider candy that can be choking hazards. Van Dorin said while parents are checking to make sure wrappers are still intact on their child’s candy, it’s a good time to remove anyting that might be considered a choking hazard like jawbreakers and gum, especially for little kids.
Other public health officials also suggested looking out for candy from foreign countries. Chris Glosser from Washington County Public Health said parents should especially look out for candy from Mexico. Last year, in several states across the U.S., Mexican candy was found to contain toxic levels of lead that can cause developmental delays in children.
“You need to be sure that the candy is safe,” Glosser emphasized.
Washington Police Chief Jim Lester also encouraged parents to “really monitor the candy” and to even go a step beyond and check that wrappers are real.
“Parents need to watch what their kids are getting and make sure that none of the candy has been tampered with. It’s important they have an increased awareness, and that they check they’re properly labeled. We’re seeing a lot of marijuana edibles that come from other states where it’s legal and some of these items are in packages that resemble traditional candy,” Lester said.
Van Dorin, Glosser and Lester also stressed that children should never trick-or-treat alone and that kids should stay in neighborhoods that they are familiar with. The public health directors also stated that children should stay on sidewalks and be cautious when crossing roads.
While emphasis is generally put on making sure candy is safe, a large chunk of Halloween accidents and fatalities happen on the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website, Traffic Safety Marketing, 42 percent of the fatalities that occurred on Halloween from 2013 to 2017 “were in traffic crashes that involved at least one drunk driver.” In those four years, 158 people were killed on Halloween due to drunk driving. To protect adults and children, the organization suggests people plan before heading out to parties and to have a designated driver set before Halloween. Drivers out on Halloween should be more aware and cautious, especially in popular trick-or-treating neighborhoods and residential districts.
To make children more visible to drivers, Chris Estle from Fairfield’s Department of Public Health, said parents should purchase reflective tape to put on costumes. Estle stressed that visibility for both children and those operating vehicles are important.
“The biggest thing is making sure kids have reflective tape and shoes that fit. They should always be with an adult who will make sure they’re not darting in and out of traffic,” Estle said, later adding that she recommended against colored contacts for costumes that could hinder people’s ability to see. Glosser also suggested children carry flashlights or glowsticks to further help with visibility.
“Always look both ways before crossing the street. Wear costumes that you can look both ways because sometimes you have a mask and you look both ways but then the mask moves and you can’t even see it,” Van Dorin also noted.
Arin Jones the coordinator of Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC) from Iowa State Extension suggests forgoing masks and using hats and make up instead. For children who are old enough to trick-or-treat alone, Jones also recommends parents send kids out with a cellphone and talk with children before Halloween about when to call for help.
“It’s important to make sure they’re in a group and if possible, to map out a route ahead of time ... they should also let kids know only to go to homes with porch lights on and not to go into houses or cars,” Jones added. The CPPC coordinator also noted that parents of children with food allergies should pay extra careful attention to candy and to make sure an adult is with the child during Halloween and knows how to identify signs of distress and how to administer an EpiPen if necessary.
As children excitedly collect candy, Martha Hernandez, a dental hygienist with Washington County Public Health, noted candy using xylitol, a sugar substitute may help reduce sugar intake and protect children’s teeth.
“It’s really dependent on daily intake and habit so one Halloween might not change anything but we always suggest less is better,” Hernandez said.
To combat any potential cavities from Halloween candy, Hernandez always suggests children brush with fluoridated toothpaste. Hernandez and her department generally hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste in at Washington’s Trick-or-treat Around the Square.
Other less noted Halloween safety tips were highlighted by the Iowa Poison Control Center, which encouraged parents to use limit children’s access to dry ice and to use safe make up as well as make sure costumes are flame-retardant. Other tips included making sure kids have a healthy meal before going out to trick-or-treat and to be cautious around animals while walking from house to house.
For parents searching for more resources on Halloween safety, the Iowa Poison Control Center has a list of tips at https://www.cdc.gov/family/halloween/index.htm and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides Halloween health and safety tips at https://www.cdc.gov/family/halloween/index.htm. The American Red Cross Foundation also has some helpful pointers at https://www.redcross.org/local/iowa/about-us/news-and-events/news/halloween-safety-tips.html. Healthychildren.org, a website by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is also highly recommended by several public health departments.