Halloween has a different look in many communities this year. Outdoor Halloween parties, car trunk trick-or-treating events and more masks than ever are in the mix. With all these changes, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on some important food safety basics for Halloween festivities.

Institute of Food Technologists member expert and Cornell Professor Emeritus of Food Science  Dr. Robert “Bob” Gravani, gave Food Safety News some tips to keep your family safe from food poisoning this spooky season.

Trick-or-treat food safety tips:

  • No snacking: “Talk to your kids about the importance of not snacking on any of the goodies that they collect,” Gravani said. Parents should urge their children to wait until they get home and let an adult inspect their treats before they eat any of them. “Kids get so excited with this that it’s easy to want to take something out of your goodie bag and eat it on the way, but it behooves everyone to make sure those treats are safe.” Gravani suggests that “the first thing parents should do, is give their kids a light meal or snack before they go out trick-or-treating,” which will help stop their snacking. 
  • Safe treats:  Children should not accept, and especially not eat, anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. “I would encourage parents and kids, not to take anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. With homemade snacks, you just don’t know where it was made or how it was made,” Gravani said. “When parents get home they should look for signs of any tampering, unusual appearance, discoloration or tears in the wrapping.” 
  • Food Allergies: Parents of children with food allergies should check the labels to ensure the allergen isn’t present. “If your child has any type of food allergy,  parents should make sure the label is checked to make sure the specific allergen they have a problem with is not present,” Gravani said. “And again, don’t allow kids to eat home-baked products they might have received.”
  • Choking hazards: Parents of young children should be sure to remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies or small toys. “Parents should keep an eye out for candies that pose a choking hazard to young children,” Gravani said. 

Halloween party food safety tips:

  • Serve pasteurized drink juices and ciders: If you’re having a party at home, make sure you’re serving pasteurized juices and ciders. Unpasteurized juice or cider can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. To stay safe, always serve pasteurized products at your parties.
  • Hands off the raw cookie dough: “Sometimes people have kids involved in some sort of baking project, and it’s always tempting to eat or taste the raw batter, but that should be avoided,” Gravani explained.  Raw cookie dough or cake batter that contains uncooked eggs or unbaked flour can harbor harmful bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli.
  • Keep food chilled before serving: Gravani told us that perishable foods should be 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. “We need to make sure that we don’t leave perishable foods out for longer than two hours.”
  • Let’s skip the bobbing for apple: Bobbing for apples is an all-time favorite Halloween game, but Gravani suggests finding a different activity or a variation of the game. “You can make apples out of construction paper and place a paperclip on them, write activities or games on them and then place them all in a bucket. Then you give the kids a stick or a line with a magnet on it, and have them fish for the apples and have them do the activity written on it.”

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