Two of the most popular ingredients for Halloween celebrations can cause nightmarish results in the form of gastric distress that can haunt partiers for days or longer.

traditional apple cider presses
Traditional apple cider presses.

Apple cider has long been a beverage of choice for Halloween and other autumn gatherings, but if it’s not been pasteurized it can contain Cryptosporidium, Salmonella, E. coli or Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.

Another Halloween favorite — bobbing for apples — offers similar dangers. The apples themselves can harbor foodborne pathogens on their skin and stems that hitched rides from the orchard of packing shed to the party at your home or church. Party goers mouths, noses and faces spread germs to all the fruit in the tub as they bob for the apples.

Avoiding the apple-related ghoulish and ghastly symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, stomach cramps and fever is relatively simple, though, according to state and federal public health and food safety officials.

“You can’t tell if cider is contaminated just by looking at it,” Iowa’s State Medical Director Patricia Quinlisk said in a public alert. “In fact, there is no difference in smell or taste.

“The key to preventing illness associated with apple cider is purchasing product that has been pasteurized, or by heating unpasteurized apple cider to at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Quinlisk cautioned that so-called freshly processed cider from local orchards, roadside stands, farmers markets and even grocery stores may be bottled with labels that may confuse some consumers into thinking it is pasteurized. Also, just because cider or apple juice is served hot doesn’t mean it is safe. Complete pasteurization is required to kill the bacteria, which are particularly dangerous to children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with suppressed immune systems.

boy bobbing for applesNo bobbing zone
Safeguarding against bacteria from apples — and party goers — in bobbing tubs is easy, according to tips offered by the Food and Drug Administration and the food safety advocacy group, which stands for Fight Bacteria. Replace the water and fresh apples in the bobbing tub with construction paper apples and paperclips.

FightBAC says to cut out lots of apples from red construction paper. On each apple, write an activity. Things like “do five jumping jacks” or “sing your favorite song” are suggested.

Next, slip a paper clip on to each apple and put them writing-side down in the bobbing tub or a basket. Tie a magnet to a string and have players take turns “bobbing” with the magnet. Each player must do the activity written on their paper apple, with a fresh, washed apple as their reward.

Other tips from FDA
Snacking: Children shouldn’t snack on treats from their goody bags while they’re out trick-or-treating. Give them a light meal or snack before they head out — don’t send them out on an empty stomach. Either go with them as they collect treats, or impose the rule that they have to wait until they get home and let you inspect their loot before they eat any of it.

Safe treats: Tell children not to accept — and especially not to eat — anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.

Food Allergies: If your child has a food allergy, check the label to ensure the allergen isn’t present. Do not allow the child to eat any home-baked goods he or she may have received.

Choking hazards: If you have very young children, be sure to remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)