Monday, October 26, 2009

Trick-or-Treatig Safely

That ghouly, ghostly holiday every kid loves is just around the corner. So it's time for my annual posting of Halloween tips...

For us parents of food allergic kids, Halloween can be stressful. Should we let them go trick-or-treating? Should we have a party instead? Should we stay home, lock the doors, and turn out the lights? What about that giant bag of unsafe candy?!!

In our family, we’ve discovered that the candy is really the least important part of the holiday. The adventure is the best part. Candy seems like the goal (“I’m going to fill this WHOLE bucket!”), but it’s really just the excuse for dressing up, running around the neighborhood in the dark squealing with flashlights, and getting together with friends.

Focus on the adventure, and create your Halloween traditions around the parts of the holiday your kids love best. If they like to trick-or-treat, don’t be afraid of that. There are plenty of things you can do with unsafe candy afterwards, and if the kids know about the rules ahead of time, it will be surprisingly easy to keep them safe while doing it.

Here are some tips for safe trick-or-treating:

Tip #1: No one eats anything until everyone gets home and the parent reads the label on every piece of candy. That way, no one is eating unidentified foods and having a reaction while you’re out in the dark a block away from home. Make sure the kids agree, understand, and agree again. No one sneaks anything (not even Dad).

Tip #2: If you child is super-sensitive to an ingredient, you might have them wear gloves with their costume, so that any allergenic candy that touches their hand on the way into the bag doesn’t cause a skin reaction. Toss the glove in the wash or in the trash when you get home.

Tip #3: Unlabeled candy is assumed to be unsafe. Period. The only exceptions are brand-name candies that you are already familiar with and know are safe. (For example, I know Starbursts and Skittles are okay for my son, so I’ll let him keep those.) If there is a type of candy that he’s particularly interested in, I might promise to look for it at the store the next day, and read the ingredients there. But it goes into a separate container until we’ve seen it at the store and verified its safety.

Tip #4: Before you head out on your adventure, talk about what you’re going to do with any candy when the night is over. Here are some ideas:

1) Go trick-or-treating with a friend, and at the end of the night, dump both kids’ candy together, then make two piles – a “safe” pile for the allergic kid, and the other pile for the non-allergic kid. If they both know about this plan beforehand, they are usually more than willing to do this.

2) Buy a bag of safe candy ahead of time, and at the end of the night, let your child “trade” you for all the unsafe candy he brought home.

3) “Buy” the unsafe candy from your child – but establish a price ahead of time, such as a nickel a piece, a dollar a pound, or the whole kit and caboodle for a new DVD, a small toy, a trip to the movies, a night out with Dad, a visit to the dollar store, or other such treat.

4) Look for a dentist or other business in your area that buys candy from kids on the day after Halloween. There’s at least one dentist in Layton that does. The kids get money, and the dentist donates the candy to a children’s hospital, I think.

5) Let the child “donate” the unsafe candy to Mom or Dad, so they can take it to work and share it with their coworkers.

6) Let the child donate the unsafe candy to a local women’s shelter, food bank, homeless shelter, or family of an Iraqi soldier – the soldiers always seem to appreciate candy that they can share with friends or give to Iraqi children.

Don’t let Halloween spook you. There are plenty of ways to celebrate safely – have a party at your house, go trick-or-treating with a plan for replacing the unsafe candy, visit a haunted house or Lagoon’s Frightmares, or rent The Nightmare Before Christmas and snuggle up together in the dark.

Whatever your family Halloween tradition becomes, I hopes it’s spooktacular!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Contemplating Pumpkin Pie

I goofed on at least one candy label in last week’s post, as “Infant Bibliophile” pointed out very, very gently (thanks for being kind!). Twizzlers, of course, are made with wheat flour, and I was trying to keep my list free of the top 8 allergens. I’m so sorry I let that one slip through. And I’m so glad that other people are out there to help back me up and spread that safety net a little farther for all of us.

But I guess it does just goes to show… you can’t trust anyone but yourself, and even then, it’s a good idea to double-check yourself! Sigh.

Preparations for Halloween are continuing. I bought a couple of cans of pumpkin yesterday, with the wildly optimistic notion that I might try to make an egg- and milk-free pumpkin pie again this year. I tried last year, and the 3 or 4 pies I attempted were NOT successful. Ick. I’m pretty sure even that guy on the Bizarre Foods television show wouldn’t have touched those pies with a ten-foot anthill-poking stick.

So this year maybe I’ll try again. I’ve run across an allergy-friendly recipe or two for pumpkin pie, so I’ll give them a shot and see how they turn out.

Yesterday, I made an apple pie. All those yummy apples are everywhere now, and my husband brought some home from a work buddy, so I cheated and bought one of those Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts (love those babies, and they’re milk-, egg-, and nut-free). Then I put on my Martha Stewart hat (no, not really), and I whipped up an apple pie. It tasted delicious, but it fell apart badly when I dished it up. I called it “train wreck cobbler” instead of “apple pie,” so it sounded like I meant to do it that way. Everyone fell for it. Sure.

Oh well. Maybe a pumpkin pie really isn’t in the cards for me this year. Who needs the stress? Perhaps I’ll make pumpkin cookies instead of pumpkin pie. Sounds safer. Or I like to spoon some pumpkin into my safe pancake mix and make pumpkin pancakes this time of year. That’s easy, and my family likes them.

Or maybe I’ll just let those cans of pumpkin sit in my pantry until next year. I’ve still got a costume to make, after all.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reading Halloween Candy Labels for Fun and Profit

Okay, I lied about the fun part. And the profit part. Unless you count safety as profit (and I guess we all do). But reading labels is still something I have to do.

So I just spent a couple of hours reading the labels on bags of Halloween candy at Sam’s Club and at Smith’s (a Kroger store). I have bad news and good news.

First, the bad news. The big bag of Wonka Mix-ups candy at Sam’s Club, which has always been my stand-by for candy that’s free from the top eight allergens, is sporting a new warning about factory cross-contamination of egg and wheat for the Nerds, SweetTarts, and BottleCaps in the bag. Only the Laffy Taffy is still warning-free. As I wandered around the store, I checked the labels on other Wonka candy – most of them didn’t have the warning. Hmmm. Curious, and worrying.

Then I went to Smith’s and they had a smaller bag of Wonka Mix-ups, with a different combination of candy inside – instead of the Bottlecaps, this bag had Runts. I checked the label. No allergen warning on any of the candies. Did this mean there were different factories involved? Or did they leave off the warning inadvertently on some of their bags?

When I got home, I called the factory. I talked to a nice man who was quite pleasant and went looking for the information. When he returned to the phone, he read me a very long and informative letter about the labeling laws, the difference between a “cross-contamination warning” and a “contains” warning, and the importance of reading ingredients labels each and every time. (It was actually really good information that someone new to allergies would need, so I was glad to hear someone at their factory took it seriously.)

Then, still reading, he explained that some of their factories – and they have multiple factories – do process products with Top 8 allergens, so they do have to put cross-contamination warnings on their products. However, he also said they do perform thorough cleaning and they use strict preparation guidelines when they’re using an allergen. But they still put the warning label on the food.

So he explained that the bag without the warning was made in an allergen-free factory. The bag with the warning was made in a factory that also processed wheat and egg. This also explains why the box of Nerds in the vending aisle at Sam’s didn’t have the egg and wheat warning. Those Nerds were made in the safe factory. Okay, now I get it.

I told him my biggest concern now was when my son brings home his trick-or-treat candy. Always before, the little boxes of Nerds and Runts were safe. Now we can’t be sure. Will each individual little box or package have the allergy warning on it? He assured me that yes, each tiny package will include an allergen warning if it was made in the allergen factory, and it WON’T have the allergy warning if it was made in the safe factory. (Okay, I know you know that my son is only allergic to nuts and peanuts. But I like to hand out candy that’s free from all allergens, so that any allergic kid in our neighborhood gets at least one treat he/she can eat. So I told the guy my son was allergic to eggs and wheat, just to make the discussion easier.)

So… Once again I’m reminded of the importance of reading ingredients labels each and EVERY time I buy a product, no matter how many times I’ve bought that product before.

Now the good news: I found lots of candy that’s free from the big 8, both at Sam’s Club and at Smiths. They all contain food colorings, and most contain corn syrup, however, so if those are your issues, this list won’t help. In that case, a couple of wonderful UFAN members recommend lollipops from YummyEarth. They’re free from the big 8, and use natural colorings and flavorings. They’re available in health food stores, but they’re cheaper on here: YummyEarth Organic Lollipops.

Here’s what I found at Sam’s Club:

Betty Crocker Fruit by the Foot (They have Monster Flavors: Boo Berry and Frankenberry, like the cereals!)
Mars Mix bag (Skittles and Starbursts)
Member’s Mark Zoo Animal Fruit Snacks (box of 72 pouches for $8.98)
Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-Ups
Kellogg’s SpongeBob Fruit Snacks
Spangler Dum-Dums (360 for $6.98)
Laffy Taffy Ropes (canister of 48 individually wrapped)
Laffy Taffy (165 for $6.22)
Wonka Stretchy & Tangy Laffy Taffy
Twizzlers (180 for $6.98)
Otter Pops
Del Monte Fruit Chillers (like Otter Pops, but made with fruit)
Jolly Rancher Lollipops (100 for $9.22)
In the vending aisle, there are packages of candy with 24 – 30 individual packets inside. If you have smaller crowds at your house, check out that aisle for vending machine-sized products like Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, Hot Tamales, Mike & Ike, Wonka Fun Dip, Wonka Shockers, Wonka Nerds, Wonka Giant Pixy Styx, Wonka Giant Chewy SweetTarts, Wonka Laffy Taffy Ropes, Baby Bottle Pops, and Push Pops.

Here’s the Halloween candy I found bags at Smith’s:
Mix of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids
Mix of Mike & Ike and Hot Tamales
Jujy Fruits
The safe mixed bag of Wonka Mix-ups

I made my son really happy by discovering the mixed bag of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids. So that’s what we’re handing out to the kids in our neighborhood this year.

I hope my shopping expedition will make your shopping a little easier this year. Have fun!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Great Candy Corn Hunt

Last year, you may remember that I went searching high and low for nut-free candy corn for my son. I couldn’t find any for sale, but I did find a vegan recipe for candy corn at “The Urban Housewife” blog. (It does call for soy milk, but maybe you can substitute rice milk if you're allergic to soy.)

This year, however, I have exciting news to report: Nut-free candy corn exists!

My friend Kim finally found nut-free candy corn from the manufacturer Blueberry Hill (warning: it does contain soy and eggs). There’s an interesting discussion on the Food Allergy Buzz blog about whether Blueberry Hill’s manufacturing process should be considered nut-free, however, because they do process peanut products in their facility, but the area where they produce the nut-free products is separate and they actually have a food-allergy protocol where an outside organization tests for allergens (and their testing has not turned up any allergens).

While there is plenty of debate on that blog about whether this should constitute a “nut-free” environment, for my own son, I’ve made the decision that I am comfortable with their candy, because any company that actually has a food-allergy protocol, maintains a separate allergen-free manufacturing area, and can show allergen testing results tells me they’re probably more aware and concerned than the average manufacturer. Read the Food Allergy Buzz blog for more information including emails from the companies involved, and make your own decision, of course.

I found Blueberry Hill candy corn at Honk’s dollar store in Layton. Peanut Free Planet carries Blueberry Hill Harvest Mix Assorted Mellowcremes (which contain soy and eggs) as well as Sunrise brand candy corn (which is in identical packaging to the Blueberry Hill Harvest Mix, but made in a nut-free factory in Mexico, so I don’t know what their connection is). Since Peanut-Free Planet strives to carry only products that are manufactured in nut-free factories, I assume the Sunrise product is equivalent to the Blueberry Hill product, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for it.

I also found nut-free candy corn (but it, too, contains egg and soy) available by the pound at The Chocolate Emporium. I haven’t bought theirs to try, but it’s worth a shot if you can’t find it elsewhere.

If you can find the Blueberry Hill candy corn, it’s pretty tasty. Not quite identical to Brach’s version, but definitely passable, and my son loves it.

Not everyone loves candy corn, and if you’re allergic to eggs, you still can’t eat the ones I found. So with that in mind, I did a quick survey of other Halloween treat options online, and here’s what I found:

1. Nut-free: Lots of nut-free Halloween treats at Vermont Nut Free and Peanut Free Planet.

2. Nut-free, milk-free, egg-free: Yummy-looking chocolate ghosts at Divvies.

3. Nut-free, egg-free, milk-free, gluten-free (and certified Kosher parve): Lots of chocolate and candy treats, including chocolate ghost pops, foil-wrapped chocolate pumpkins, etc., at the Chocolate Emporium. Not all their products have the same allergens, so check ingredients carefully.

Next week, I’ll try to have suggestions for allergen-friendly candy to hand out to those little trick-or-treaters.