October 12, 2022

What Is the Teal Pumpkin Project?

Halloween is an exciting time for all of us, especially the kiddos. They get to dress up as their favorite things while getting to run around the neighborhood at night with their friends. Of all things associated with Halloween, trick-or-treating is probably the highlight of the night for most kids and then they get to go home to open up tons of candy.

Here's where the night can get tricky and scary for families with food allergies. The reality for over 5 million children in the US is that their parents first need to comb through all their kids’ candy and eliminate any that could cause a reaction for their child. Many kids watch their bucket full of candy turn into a small handful that they’ll be able to safely eat. Sometimes it is none at all. For these children, their fun night with friends can end up being sad, frustrating, and sometimes life-threatening.

If you're a food allergy parent you may be wondering, how can my child safely participate in trick-or-treating? What safe candy can my child eat? How can I make my child feel included in Halloween? If this is what Halloween is looking like, you're not alone. 

What is the Teal Pumpkin Project?

The Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization adopted the Teal Pumpkin Project nationally in 2014 as a way to bring awareness, fun, and safety to children who suffer from food allergies. Most popular candies contain at least one of the nine most common food allergens that affect children with food allergies, such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, or wheat. Meaning popular treats like M&Ms, Reese’s, or Hershey’s bars are all candies that kids have to throw out. 

Most families get a few different candies to give out during Halloween, but the selection is still not enough for children with food allergies. When you’re buying candy this year, take a look at the shelves and see just how many variety bags contain just one of those food allergens. It can be difficult to avoid, that’s why this worldwide movement of the Teal Pumpkin Project is bringing attention and inclusivity to everyone because not all kids are able to enjoy this holiday. It doesn’t take much effort at all to become a home that is friendly to food allergy sufferers!

How do I participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project?

To participate is a simple, 2-step process. Place a teal pumpkin, flier, or sign outside your home and give away non-food treats as an option during Halloween. FARE has partnered with CVS Pharmacy this year, you can purchase a teal bucket here for just $3. You can also find teal buckets and pumpkins to put outside on your porch at Target, Amazon, or Michael's. 

What kind of non-food treats can I give away at Halloween?

These can be anything small and inexpensive toys like bubbles or toy cars. Below is a list of different examples that you can find. I also wanted to mention that when you do participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project, you can still give away candy as a treat! Just make sure you keep it in a separate container and you’ll be able to give away treats to all trick-or-treaters this year! CVS Pharmacy is offering nearly 50 convenient and affordable food-allergy safe items in select stores. Find a participating CVS store on this interactive neighborhood map!

Here’s some of the most popular treats you can give away. All of these items can be found in abundance for quite cheap at local dollar stores or online!

  • Glow sticks
  • Slime
  • Fidget toys
  • Vampire teeth
  • Stickers
  • Bubbles
  • Bouncy Balls
  • Pencils and erasers
  • Temporary Tattoos
  • Stickers

Teal Pumpkin Project treat ideas:

If you’re a food allergy parent and want to make this Halloween special, whether it be by letting your child participate in traditional trick-or-treating or creating a new tradition, here are some helpful tips and ideas: 

No direct contact with candy

Coming into direct contact with candy is a lot more common than one might think, even if you're being cautious. Typically, the bottom of the candy bowl contains remnants from open/torn candy which can cause a reaction if your child comes into contact with it. 

A good solution to this is to have your child wear gloves. It can even be a part of their costume! This way their hands will be protected when reaching into their candy bucket. 

Don’t eat treats without an ingredient label

Even if it’s a candy your child has eaten in the past, it may now have different ingredients or just be contaminated, either way, avoid candy without the label. 

Let your neighbors know about your child's allergy

Take over some candy/non-food goodie bags to your neighbors house before the trick-or-treating begins. This way it's guaranteed that your children can have at least some candy and treats they can keep at the end of the night. While it requires a little extra work beforehand, this is a great way for your child to still be able to participate in the Halloween festivities! 

Find Teal Pumpkin Project houses

Map out a route through your neighborhood of houses that are participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project. Any house that has a teal pumpkin on their porch indicates that they're participating and will offer a non-food treat. This map can show houses that will be involved this year and you can add your own to it as well!

Leave it for the "Switch Witch"

The Switch Witch comes in the middle of the night to swap the candy for allergy-friendly candy. Your kids can leave their buckets outside the front door to wait for the switch witch to come and do her work. You can donate the unwanted candy, take it to work, or give it to a neighbor. 

Double the trouble

While sorting through the candy at the end of the night, make a pile of unwanted candies. For every piece of unwanted candy, your child will receive two pieces of safe candy. This might only work if your child didn't hit the jackpot, if they did; try the next tip.

Pay Up

For every piece of candy your child has to give away, you can pay them 25 or 50 cents. By the end of the night it will add up and with that money your child can buy a toy they’ve been wanting or more safe candy with it. Some children even found this more rewarding than just receiving more candy. 

Celebrate a different way

The thought of trick-or-treating with food allergies can be too much. It doesn’t mean that you or your family has to miss out on the festivities though. Throwing a Halloween party, making a Halloween craft, or watching Halloween movies can all be great ways to celebrate without the scariness of trick-or-treating!

If you do decide to go trick-or-treating here are some tips to remember: 

  • Enforce a "no eating while trick-or-treating rule". This will avoid worry as you walk from house to house and give you time to check and review all food labels back at the house. 
  •  While reviewing labels, keep in mind that mini-size or fun-size candies may contain different ingredients than full-size candy bars. 
  • Make sure to always have an EPI pen available.

Children who suffer from food allergies already feel excluded from many things in life. Halloween and trick-or-treating doesn’t need to be one of those times. Even if you’re a household with no food allergy sufferers, the Teal Pumpkin Project is an important and easy cause to support and bring joy to kids everywhere! To learn even more about the Teal Pumpkin Project or to support financially, you can visit their website here. We wish all of you a safe and inclusive Halloween!

About The Author:

Stacy Silvers, MD

Dr. Silvers is a board certified allergist specializing in environmental and food allergy diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Dr. Silvers oversees our allergy program and protocols, and also leads the food allergy and oral immunotherapy (OIT) program at Aspire Allergy & Sinus. Dr. Silvers is considered an expert in the field of food allergy diagnosis and treatment. In 2019, Dr. Silvers was named Best Allergist in the Statesman's Best of the Best Contest.