BY JACQUELINE RUPP
Peanut butter cups, bite-sized chocolate, gooey caramel apples — it’s the stuff of childhood Halloween memories. But for kids with food allergies, who can’t eat any of that trick-or-treating loot, Halloween can be scary for reasons beyond the creepy costumes. We chatted with Dr. Kris A. Rooney, an Allentown-based pediatrician who also manages the Lehigh Valley Food Allergy Support Network, to find out more about food allergies and what we can all do to make it a happy Halloween for every child this season.
How long have you been active with the food allergy cause in the Lehigh Valley?
I joined the email listserv for Lehigh Valley Food Allergy Support Network (LVFASN) three years ago. This past spring, I volunteered to take over as the administrator for the LVFASN Facebook Page, which has allowed me to be more active in the group and help get news and updates out to our food-allergy community.
Do you have a personal connection to the cause?
Both of my sons have severe anaphylactic food allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. This makes the food allergy cause very near and dear to my heart.
About how many kids suffer from food allergies in PA?
One in 13 children have food allergies. That is roughly two children out of every classroom at school!
What are some common misconceptions about food allergies that you’d like to dispel?
I think the biggest misconception about food allergies is that they aren’t life threatening. Many people think food allergies are similar to environmental allergies with stuffy noses, rashes, and sneezing being the worst thing that can happen. Food allergy can lead to anaphylaxis, a total-body response to the allergen that can lead to respiratory failure and circulatory collapse, leading to death in minutes. It only takes a single particle of allergen contamination to trigger a response. Even if a person’s first response to an allergen was not severe, it does not predict the severity of future reactions.
Are peanut allergies the most dangerous?
The foods most likely to cause severe anaphylactic reactions are peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish. Peanut allergies seem to get the most exposure in the media, however all food allergy should be taken seriously.
Tell me more about the Teal Pumpkin project? Why is it important?
The Teal Pumpkin Project is an initiative of FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) that encourages families to put a teal-colored pumpkin on their porch as a sign to food-allergic children that safe treats are available at your home for Trick-or-Treat.
Families participating are asked to purchase inexpensive NON-FOOD treats to hand out in order to keep food-allergic children safe at Halloween and allow them to feel included in trick-or-treating.
What did children with food allergies typically do to manage their food allergies while trick or treating?
Prior to the Teal Pumpkin Project, many children with food allergies were unable to participate in trick-or-treat nights. Our family always made sure our children’s costumes included gloves to avoid exposure to cross-contaminated candy. We allowed our boys to collect treats, but once back home they would have to trade the candy in for safe versions of treats or a non-food toy.
How can families participate in the teal pumpkin program? What types of treats should we be offering?
Any family can participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project. Teal is the new Orange! We encourage families to purchase
inexpensive NON-FOOD treats such as stickers, pens or pencils, erasers, bouncy balls, etc. and keep them in a separate basket from any food treats they may have. To show trick-or- treaters you are an allergy friendly home, place a teal-colored pumpkin on your porch on trick-or- treat night!
This can be a painted pumpkin or one purchased at any of the local craft stores. Painting pumpkins with your non-food-allergic children helps to raise awareness and is an opportunity to teach them compassion and understanding for the food-allergic community. If you are interested in participating, you can get more information online at tealpumpkinproject.org or using #tealpumpkinproject in the search box on social media.
Are there some treats that families should avoid offering at Halloween?
Any food that is unwrapped or wrapped loosely is dangerous due to its high risk of cross-contamination. Homemade baked goods are also very risky for children with food allergy since there is no FDA-regulated labeling.
For families, what are some other ways to make parties and playdates safe for kids with food allergies?
Put away any loose candy, candy dishes, nuts or baked goods. Educate yourself regarding food allergies and communicate in advance with the food allergic child’s family as they will be more than happy to help provide ways to keep their child safe and included.
What’s the best way to find a teal pumpkin?
The easiest way to the just paint one with non-toxic paint! If you don’t feel like getting messy, more and more stores (especially local craft stores) are carrying teal pumpkins in support of this initiative!