Halloween and food just seem to go hand in hand. The holiday brings trick or treating, bobbing for apples, festive and fun food at Halloween parties and a host of other treats. However, Halloween food can also pose some health dangers, if parents–and kids–aren’t careful. Even though the temperatures are cooling down in most parts of the country, Halloween is not a time to abandon the good food sense that you practiced during the summer months. For a safe and savory Halloween season, consider the following food tips:
- Inspect the “treats” before snacking. Although it can be tempting to sample the candy and other treats in the basket, tell your kids that you want to take a look at their candy haul before they eat anything. This way you can look to see if anything has been tampered with or if anyone offered something ill-advised, like unwrapped or home-made candy. Look also for things that could pose an allergy threat to your child, such as candy that has nuts in it. Enforcing this rule is a lot easier if you give the kids a light meal before they head out the door for their trick or treating run.
- Give out only standard, identifiable treats. If you are giving out treats at your house this year, make it easy for parents to keep their kids safe by only handing out items that are individually sealed and that can be easily identified as safe. While making cookies, candy or other home-made treats may sound like a good idea, the unsafe world we live in makes such items scary for parents.
- Beware of choking hazards for small children. If you have very young children out trick or treating this year, make sure that you also scan their baskets for very small pieces of candy or other treats that might present a choking hazard.
- Scrub those apples. Bobbing for apples is a timeless Halloween tradition. Keep the food safe by scrubbing the apples well before you start the event with water or, better yet, a fruit sanitizer. Get rid of surface dirt by scrubbing the fruit with a brush. This applies to any raw fruit, not just apples. During the bobbing for apples activity, it’s also a good idea to switch out the water periodically.
- Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. This food service adage doesn’t go away when the weather cools. Bacteria can still grow in food that isn’t properly handled. You want to be especially careful with things like mayonnaise-based salads, finger sandwiches, cheese trays, cream pies and cakes and whipped cream or cream cheese frostings. Keep the cold food on ice and a burner under the hot food. A good rule of thumb is to not leave food out at room temperature (defined in food service as between 40 and 130 degrees) for more than two hours.
- No tasting the cookie dough. If you and your kids are making Halloween cookies this season, remember that cookie dough is off-limits at Halloween time as well as at Christmas, warns the Federal Drug Administration. Licking the batter-laden spoon or the bowl may be tempting, but dough made with raw egg can contain salmonella bacteria.
- Choose only pasteurized cider or juice. Apple juice and cider are popular Halloween beverages. However, guard your guests’ health by making sure to only serve those products that have gone through the pasteurizing process. Unprocessed cider, such as sometimes found at apple farms and roadside stands can harbor E. coli or salmonella bacteria. Products from major food manufacturers that you find on your grocery shelves are okay to serve. Check the label if you’re not certain. Unpasteurized juice or cider will indicate that on the label.
- Wash your hands. October marks the beginning of flu and cold season. After your kids are done with their trick or treating outing, make sure that they wash their hands thoroughly. Who knows what was on all of the surfaces they touched on their travels around the neighborhood. (Washing hands frequently is a good idea for adults, too.)
OSHA recommends washing your hands with soapy water for at least 30 seconds to get rid of bacteria and germs. One way to teach that length of time to kids is to tell them to sing “Happy Birthday” silently to themselves. When the song’s done, they can stop washing their hands.
Keeping kids and adults safe at Halloween involves more than just driving carefully and picking the right costume. Food safety for the October holiday may be talked about less frequently, but it’s no less important than staying safe on the streets. Spend a little time up front to make sure that everyone has a happy-and healthy–Halloween this year.
Sandy Mitchell lives in the heart of Ohio’s wine country, where she’s a homeowner, landlord, and organic gardener. She is also a regular contributor to the Ross Feller Casey, LLP blog, where she shares her advice on family safety and health issues. Ross Feller Casey assists families affected personal injuries by representing them in premises liability and other cases.