Halloween Horrors, Fall Festival Flubs

Published: October 22, 2012 By: Phyllis Bell-Davis, M.Ed.

Ghosts and goblins may not be the true threat to trick-or-treaters during this year’s Halloween festivities. Possibly tainted candy, use of costume materials, and food borne illnesses may really be the hazards. As such, the health professionals at the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville can be an important resource for parents at this time of year. The Poison Center Help Line, 1-800-222-1222, is available 24 hours a day when these questions come up.

Halloween can be a time for fun and adventure for children, but we need to remain diligent that there are still some risks associated with Halloween activities such as those described below or for small children accidentally mistaking medications for treats. Children under the age of six continue to be the number one victim of accidental poisonings. Last year, the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville received almost 38,000 human exposure calls, nearly half of which involved accidental ingestions in children under the age of six. Between Oct. 29 and Nov. 2 last year, the Help Line received almost 663 calls. On Oct. 31 alone, there were 133 calls for help and advice to the Poison Center Help Line.

This is also the time of the year known for fall festivals, carnivals and fairs. One of the more fun aspects of these events is the various types of food available. The not-so-fun part can be food borne illness associated with undercooked or improperly handled or stored food. The Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville can provide food safety education tips and management advice for food poisoning if it does occur.

"Parents should be vigilant for malicious contamination and tampering of Halloween candy," said Jay L. Schauben, Pharm.D., DABAT, FAACT, director of the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville. "Likewise, we can decrease the risk to children by using non-toxic paints and materials for costume design and by paying close attention to food/candy labels to prevent food allergies."

The following tips can help ensure a safe Halloween for everyone:

  • Parents should inspect all treats their children bring home before any are consumed and immediately discard treats with puncture holes, tears or signs of re-wrapping.
  • Feed children dinner before they go out or bring along your own candy to give your children to reduce the urge to snack on treats that have not been inspected.
  • Be extra careful with toddler's goodies. Avoid choking hazards by allowing treats that are age-appropriate. Be careful with hard candy, gum, peanuts and toys with small parts.
  • Caution children to not chew or bite on glow sticks or glow jewelry as these products contain an irritating chemical which may cause pain if it gets in their mouth, eyes or throat.
  • If using dry ice for decorations, be aware that direct contact with the skin or mouth can cause a frostbite type injury. Wash immediately with water.
  • Wear reflective costumes in the dark or carry a flashlight.
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

If you suspect a poisoning has occurred, or if you have questions concerning poisonings, immediately call the Poison Center Help Line toll free, 24 hours a day at 1-800-222-1222 and a Specialist in Poison Information will assist you. Don’t waste time on the Internet; call the Poison Center for the right answer the first time.

The Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville is a cooperative effort between the University of Florida College of Medicine, Shands Jacksonville, the University of Florida Health Science Center Jacksonville, and the Florida Department of Health Children’s Medical Services. The Florida/USVI Poison Information Center-Jacksonville is designated as an accredited regional poison control center by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

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