Going Gluten-FreeOctober 29, 2014

How Do I Keep My Gluten-Free or Food-Allergy Kid Safe From All That Halloween Candy?

The sweets come flooding in this time of year, requiring extra vigilance for those Halloween trick-or-treaters and sweets-lovers who follow a gluten-free, allergy-sensitive diet.

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Posted by Jules Shepard

Candy Corn

Photo: Mindmatrix

Is there gluten in your favorite brand of candy corn? Always scour ingredient labels.

[Updated Oct. 30, 2015]

As Halloween approaches, you may be experiencing a fright of a different form: How do I keep my gluten-free or food-allergy kid safe with all that candy around?

While many confections are indeed free of gluten and other major allergens, many actually have surprising ingredients lurking behind their wrappers. Egg whites in some brands of candy corn—who would have thought? Extruded shapes like most licorice (Twizzlers) contain enriched wheat flour. Malted milkballs contain barley. Candy bars containing rice crisps are flavored with barley malt (Nestlé Crunch). Candy bars with cookies inside (like Twix) contain wheat … these are all the bane of any GF parent’s Halloween existence.

But what about the products that aren’t even labeled properly or well enough to determine if they are truly safe for your little ghouls? Federal law has required for years that food labels in the U.S. identify the top 8 major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans. Under this law, manufacturers must either clearly identify the specific food source names, such as “casein (milk)” or in a separate “contains” statement printed immediately after or next to the ingredient list, “Contains Milk.”

Candy Wrappers

On this label, neither whey nor lactose are actually identified as being derived from milk.

As you can see from this candy label, neither whey nor lactose are actually identified as being derived from milk, nor is there a separate “contains” statement. While “skim milk” is listed appropriately as an ingredient, it’s easy to see how a hurried parent could miss that milk was a major ingredient here.

The FDA’s recent gluten-free food labeling regulations operate somewhat differently in that there is no mandate that “GF” be called out on the package of a gluten-free food. But if the manufacturer decides to do so, it must know that the product would test to less than 20 parts per million of gluten (ppm). There is no requirement, however, for the manufacturer to test this assertion.

If a consumer have reason to believe that a product contains more than 20 ppm gluten, or that it contains one of the top eight food allergens (undeclared), he can report it to the FDA, which will look into the claim.

According to the FDA, from September 2009 to September 2012, about one-third of foods reported to them as posing serious health risks involved undeclared allergens. The five food types most often involved in subsequent food allergen recalls were: bakery products; snack foods; candy; dairy products, and dressings. The allergens most frequently involved in these recalls were milk, wheat, and soy.

Most disturbingly at this time of year was in the candy category. Undeclared milk in dark chocolate products labeled as “dairy-free” or “vegan” have led to several recalls for chocolate-coated snack bars. Frequently, these labeling errors occurred because similar products were made with similar ingredients or sold in look-alike packages. To check FDA’s updated list of product recalls, visit its website.

To ensure a safe night for everyone in your family, do some homework first. Many candy companies are putting their allergen information on their websites, and that’s always where the best ingredient information can be found. Don’t be afraid to call customer service numbers, either. If you don’t get satisfactory answers to your questions through these routes, you know to move on to another brand.

A good place to start is with websites like Hershey’s, which has updated gluten-free, allergen-free, and sugar-free products lists showing, for example, that some seasonal and smaller shapes of traditionally gluten-free candies like Reeses are not considered GF while plenty of other treats, like Kisses, are.

Orange Marshmallow Peeps

Peeps Marshmallow treats: "Always gluten-free"—and if you go with the ghosts (pictured below), they're dye-free too.

Peeps Marshmallow Ghosts

Of course, the best gluten-free Halloween candy shopping experience comes when these companies go to the trouble of telling you right on the package that their products are gluten or allergen-free, and you can check their websites to be doubly sure. That’s one reason why Marshmallow Peeps fill my candy bowl.

As far as confections go, you can’t beat the fact that now emblazoned across the front of Peep packages everywhere is the declaration: “Always Gluten Free”! And if you’re looking to avoid food dyes in candy, choose the white Peeps Ghosts—they're dye-free.

Even Jet-Puffed Marshmallows are getting into the fun by offering Halloween-shaped marshmallows in “Spooky Fun Packs.” Another great GF treat now sold in handy distribute-on-Halloween sizes is Haribo Gummy Bears.

Justin's Peanut Butter Cups

Justin's promotes its peanut butter cups has having "none of the tricks, all of the treats."

And don’t despair if you’re a vegan peanut butter cup lover: Justin’s is now packaging its organic, dairy-free dark chocolate peanut butter cups in 10-packs that are perfect for Halloween night. Even those sugar-high-averse parents among us can feel somewhat better grabbing Angie’s popcorn snack packs (certified GF and dairy-free, too).

If you’d rather take the food-free, allergy-friendly route, go for it! You’ll have the support of thousands—and you should be sure to paint a pumpkin teal for your front porch, too! FARE (Food Allergy Research Education) sponsors the #TealPumpkinProject to promote safe trick-or-treating stops for food allergy kids. When kids see a teal pumpkin, they'll know the loot they’ll rake in won’t make them sick, and their parents can relax knowing their happy haunters will be safe with candy from a teal-pumpkin house. 

The bottom line is that there are plenty of gluten-free and allergy-free choices to make your Halloween tasty, sticky, and fun without being scared about whether they contain ingredients that would make your night go sour.

So do your homework, print a list, hit the stores, and enjoy the spirit of the holiday without fear! Happy Haunting! 


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