Halloween celebrations can be a trick or a treat when it comes to food safety. Proper preparation by parents can go a long way for children of all ages who indulge in holiday activities and goodies.

These tips and tricks will help carve out food-safe festivities for party throwers and party goers.

This year’s spooky season comes amidst some significant current events into food safety, such as Colorado’s recent ban on marijuana edibles that look like kids’ candy. There are now eight states that have legalized recreational marijuana, and the Colorado legislation required the Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) to come up with a way to keep children from mistakenly eating edible marijuana products shaped like gummy bears, fruit snacks, etc. Parents in these states are encouraged to take an extra close look at the candy in their kids’ bags.

Additionally, recent raw milk recalls shine a light on the dangers of pathogens secretly haunting our sips. Parents should be aware that in some states, other people could serve their children raw milk beverages, such as chocolate milk and cocoa. Raw milk does not undergo pasteurization to kill bacteria, viruses and parasites.  Hot cocoa is usually not heated long enough at high enough temperatures to kill harmful pathogens.

In addition to hot cocoa, pressed apple ciders could be a nasty trick or terrific treat. Consumers should remember that pressed apple cider and apple bobbing can result in unpleasant pathogen exposure. Symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, stomach cramps and fever can all be avoided by remembering the following tips:

  • Prevent illness associated with apple cider by purchasing product that has been pasteurized.
  • Beware of so-called freshly processed cider from local orchards, roadside stands, farmers markets and even grocery stores that may be bottled with labels that can confuse some consumers into thinking the product has been pasteurized.
  • Just because cider or apple juice is served hot doesn’t mean it is safe because complete pasteurization is required to kill the bacteria.
  • The apples themselves can harbor foodborne pathogens on their skin and stems transporting dangers microscopic bacteria from orchards or packing sheds to parties in homes, offices, churches or other locations.
  • Party goers mouths, noses and faces can spread germs to all the fruit in the tub while bobbing for apples.
  • Cider cannot be determined as contaminated by looking at it, smelling it, or tasting it.

Sticky situation
recent posting from Penn State provides a timely reminder about caramel apples that have not been stored at refrigerated temperatures.

“Under no circumstances should consumers eat caramel-covered apples that have not been kept stored at refrigerated temperatures,” because of the serious risk for listeriosis, an infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, according to a food scientist in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

According to research into a deadly outbreak traced to caramel apples in recent years, when sticks are inserted into apples, Listeria monocytogenes bacteria can be lodged into the flesh of the fruit. The caramel coating then seals the bacteria underneath, and provides a “microenvironment” where the Listeria can rapidly grow.

For true caramel-dipped apple fans, the treat can still be safely enjoyed by “purchasing refrigerated caramel apples or preparing them at home,” and being sure to refrigerate them at a temperature of 40 degrees F or lower, if not consumed within two hours.

Curb their urge
Health Canada suggests that children have a snack before they head out to collect treats to prevent them from snacking out of their goody bags before returning home. Whether or not adults accompany children, it’s a good idea to make a rule that no one eats any candy before it can be inspected at home.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration provides Safe Treat Tips that adults can discuss with children:

  • Children should be instructed not to accept or eat anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. Commercially wrapped treats should be inspected for rips, tears, pinholes, unusual appearance or discoloration. Any candy that looks like it has been tampered with should be thrown out.
  • For young children, choking hazards such as peanuts, gum, hard candies, foil wrappers, and small toys should be kept out of reach.
  • Children with food allergies or sensitivities should be instructed and assisted in reading labels and identifying when allergens are present.
  • Children should not eat any home-baked goods for the risk of unknown or unwanted ingredients.

Parents should be aware that if their children are going to parties at other people’s homes, community clubs, churches, or parks, they should check with the hosts about potential food allergens in snacks and treats. Both homemade and store bought items are a hazard for unexpected ingredients that sneak their way into Halloween treats, through toppings or mix-ins like nuts.

Lastly, bacteria can be scared away by keeping prepared, perishable foods in the refrigerator until serving time. Bacteria will creep up on guests if food is left out for more than two hours; 1 hour if environmental temperatures are above 90 degrees F. So dress up, and eat up, but keep food safety tricks in mind with Halloween treats.

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