Fact Check

The Teal Pumpkin Project

Teal pumpkins have been adopted by a food allergy group as a signal that a home is offering non-food items for trick-or-treaters with food allergies on Halloween.

Published Sep 25, 2015


Trick-or-treating on Halloween has long inspired a number of urban legends and rumors of questionable veracity, and so popular are such tales that information about the display of teal pumpkins on doorsteps as a signal to trick-or-treaters with food allergies has been met with skepticism by myth-weary social media users:

The teal pumpkin claim is fairly straightforward: kids who have food allergies are often left out of Halloween fun, and the prospect of going from house to house in the hopes that a few of them might be offering toys or alternative treats inevitably results a trick-or-treating outing full of disappointment. The link between Halloween and candy remains large, so in 2014 the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) group came up with a workaround called the "Teal Pumpkin Project," devised as a way to enable families coping with food allergies to access some of the night's festivities without having to forgo the tradition altogether.

If a home is displaying a teal pumpkin on Halloween night, they're indicating that they are distributing non-food treats that can be enjoyed even by those trick-or-treaters who have food allergies or other conditions for which candy may present a problem:

Halloween can be a tricky time for families managing food allergies because many traditional Halloween treats aren’t safe for children with life-threatening food allergies. The Teal Pumpkin Project™ is designed to promote safety, inclusion and respect of individuals managing food allergies. This nationwide movement offers an alternative for kids with food allergies, as well as other children for whom candy is not an option, and keeps Halloween a fun, positive experience for all!

Participating is simple — sign our pledge, pick up some inexpensive toys, and place a teal pumpkin and/or a free printable sign from FARE outside your home to show that you have non-food treats to hand out. Supporting the Teal Pumpkin Project is a simple gesture that can have a big impact.

Food allergies are a life-altering and potentially life-threatening disease, and a growing public health issue. In the U.S., one in 13 children has a food allergy — that’s roughly two in every classroom. For these children, even a tiny amount of their allergen has the potential to cause a severe reaction.

Virtually any food can cause a reaction. Many popular Halloween candies contain nuts, milk, egg, soy or wheat, which are some of the most common allergens in children and adults. Additionally, many miniature or fun-size versions of candy items contain different ingredients than their full-size counterparts and some miniature candy items may not have labels, so it is difficult for parents to determine whether these items are safe for their child with food allergies.

Non-food treats provide a safe, fun alternative for children with food allergies and for other children, such as those with diabetes or celiac disease, for whom candy may present a problem.

Some items the campaign suggests be handed out in lieu of candy are bubbles, pencils, sticekrs, and glow bracelets/glow sticks, the latter of which also can be used for trick-or-treater visibility after sundown. FARE's site also includes a page of printable signs for families who are unable to acquire teal pumpkins, and a crowd-sourced map to help families locate participating homes in their neighborhoods.

FARE has addressed one of the primary concerns about their effort, a fear that the Teal Pumpkin Project might spoil the fun for kids without food allergies who prefer candy in their treat bags:

It is not our goal to exclude candy from the Halloween tradition. By encouraging households to provide non-food treats, our goal is simply to ensure that children with food allergies — and other children for whom candy is not an option — are able to enjoy a safer, happier Halloween. Trick-or-treaters typically receive pounds of candies and chocolates, and we're sure they will continue to collect plenty of candy. Many kids, whether they have food allergies or not, enjoy the experience of receiving little toys and other fun items that they can keep.

You can still pass out candy — just do it safely! The point of the Teal Pumpkin Project is to make trick-or-treating as inclusive as possible. You can keep the experience safe by keeping your food treats and non-food treats in separate bowls.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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