It’s not unusual for children to be warned against eating too much candy less they suffer a tummy ache. But tonight of all nights, adults and children need to beware of potential dangers lurking among their treats.

Basic food safety tips for trick-or-treaters are similar to those applicable to every other day of the year, but there is one longtime Halloween favorite that can cause more than an upset stomach — black licorice. 

A low-growing shrub, the licorice plant’s root has a long history of use as a folk remedy, according to the Food and Drug Administration. However, the National Institutes of Health reports there are insufficient data available to determine if licorice is effective in treating any medical condition  

What food scientists do know is that licorice root contains glycyrrhizin, which is a sweetening compound. Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall, according to the FDA’s Halloween food safety information. When potassium levels drop, some people experience abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, edema, lethargy and congestive heart failure.

Several medical journals have linked black licorice to health problems in people older than 40, some of whom had a history of heart disease and/or high blood pressure, the FDA reports. Dr. Linda Katz of the FDA potassium levels are usually restored with no permanent health problems when consumption of black licorice stops.

In addition to its use in candy, licorice is also used as a flavoring in many foods. However, many “licorice” flavored products that are manufactured in the United States do not contain any licorice. Instead, they contain anise oil, which has the same smell and taste.

For thise with a fondness for black licorice, FDA recommends:

  • No matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black licorice at one time;
  • If you have been eating a lot of black licorice and have an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and contact your healthcare provider;
  • Black licorice can interact with some medications, herbs and dietary supplements. Consult a health care professional if you have questions about possible interactions with a drug or supplement you take.

More Halloween food safety tips
Public health officials at all levels urge adults to closely supervise children during Halloween activities at home and elsewhere. The FDA also warns that foodborne pathogens and other food-related dangers can cause serious illnesses and injuries regardless of age.

Specific safety recommendations include: 

  • 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. Urge them 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.
  • Unpasteurized juice, cider or milk can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. To stay safe, always serve pasteurized products.
  • No matter how tempting, don’t taste raw cookie dough or cake batter.
  • Keep all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings
  • Bacteria will creep up on you if you let foods sit out too long. Don’t leave perishable goodies out of the fridge for more than two hours, one hour in temperatures above 90 degrees F.

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