Be careful with treats at Halloween

October 26, 2010

University Park, Pa. -- Parents and guardians of children, as well as those in households distributing treats, should remember some important points for keeping kids safe during trick-or-treating that occurs over the Halloween holiday, according to a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Commercially packaged food is best for treats, noted Martin Bucknavage, extension food-safety specialist. He recommends avoiding items such as homemade candies or cookies, or food items that have been opened and repackaged by the homeowner into smaller packages.

"Individually wrapped items have an outer packaging to serve as a barrier to protect food from contamination by foodborne viruses and bacteria," he said. "As parents, we would like to think that everyone handles food in a safe manner, but we can't inspect everyone's kitchen or monitor their food-handling practices to ensure that is the case.

"And while cases of intentional contamination, such as adding razor blades to apples or rat poisoning to chocolate, are more often urban legend than fact, we always should be aware of the possibility of tampering."

Children should not eat any food items while they are out trick-or-treating, Bucknavage cautioned. All food items should be taken home for parents to inspect before the children are allowed to eat them. Make sure that all items are still in their original packaging from the manufacturer.

"Discard any food items that are opened or that look suspicious or unusual," he said. "Some signs to look for include pinholes or tears in wrapping, product discoloration, or unusual odor or appearance. Choking hazards are always a concern for small children, so when inspecting, eliminate items such as round, hard candies that may get lodged in a child's throat."

To help prevent children from snacking on their goodies before getting home, make sure they have a light meal before going out to trick-or-treat, Bucknavage advised.

"And it is important to remember the old adage -- when in doubt, throw it out," he said. "There is no reason ever to take a chance when it comes to food safety."

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Last Updated November 18, 2010