SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – For the 1 in 13 kids with food allergies, Halloween can be a nightmare. In fact, many say they hate it.
Ten-year-old Marcus and his Mom Mary Espiritu make the best of the holiday, but they can relate. Marcus is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. He’s among the estimated 8 million kids with food allergies, some who are just one bite away from a potentially deadly allergic reaction.
Like many, the Espiritus have to take special precautions if Marcus want to participate in Halloween fun.
“Mom & Dad have to separate out candy, read every label, and that’s followed by thorough hand washing? Mary explained. “The majority of the candy has nuts, but it’s ok,” adds Marcus.
It’s estimated that 1 in 13 children have food allergies, two in every class, and Lois Witkop, of Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) says Halloween is an especially difficult time of year for them.
“I’ve heard children with food allergies say Halloween is their least favorite holiday. They hate it,” Witkop said.
Because Halloween is a community-based holiday, it can be especially difficult for kids who already struggle with isolation year round. Many kids with food allergies are regularly forced to sit alone at lunch, forgo sleepovers and decline certain party invites for their own safety.
“We hear far too many stories of kids with food allergies being excluded, facing bullying,” Witkop said.
And many like Mary say the adults can be worse than kids. “It’s just going to take some more education to get people to understand that it’s not asking you to change you entire lifestyle, but maybe take those few extra steps to make sure my child is safe.”
However, awareness is growing, along with the number of food allergies in kids. According to the CDC, they’ve increased 50% over the last decade.
“No one really knows why the instance of food allergies are exploding in children,” David Bloom said.
However, with a reported economic impact of $25 billion a year, Bloom of Snacksafely.com says retailers are paying attention. He points to a growing number of products marketed to the food allergy community ranging from food lines, to novelty items like the switch witch, who swaps out candy for toys on Halloween night.
“Businesses are looking at growing opportunities and a growing market,” Witkop added. And, Witkop says in some cases they’re helping to raise awareness.
For instance, maybe you’ve noticed an increase in teal pumpkin décor everywhere from Etsy, to Target, to CVS.
Teal, is the color of food allergy awareness, and FARE’s Teal Pumpkin Project encourages families without food allergies to offer non-food Halloween treats in addition to candy for trick-or-treaters like Marcus.
“You’re able to go over there without feeling left out,” Marcus explains.
Teal pumpkin participants can paint or purchased a teal pumpkin, or simply print a sign to indicate they have non-food treats available. The treats can things like glow sticks, pencils, party favors, stickers, even spare change.
It’s a simple gesture that can be inexpensive, yet priceless.
Marcus dreams of a day where there is a teal pumpkin at every house. For him, the teal pumpkin represents more than Halloween treats, it is a sign that people care about kids with food allergies. “That would be amazing to me because that means more people would be aware of people with allergies.”
“I worry about him constantly when he’s not in my care, so it is a big deal,” Mary added, fighting back tears. “It would be awesome to know that I could send him into the world and not constantly worry about that.”
Snacksafely.com has a list of allergy friendly candy like Dum Dums and Tootsie Rolls, and like the teal pumpkin project, they recommend you use a separate bowl for those types of treats.
They also stress, especially this time of year, every child with food allergies should keep two Epi-Pens with them at all times, just in case.