In just a few short days, children all over the city, dressed as their favourite characters, will go door-to-door, yelling, “trick or treat!” And with the tradition of trick-or-treating comes the unspoken tradition of parents worrying about who might want to tamper with their children’s Halloween candy.
Every year, without fail, it seems as though we see stories all over the news and social media about children finding everything from drugs to poison and needles to razor blades hidden inside their favourite Halloween treats. But is this something that parents actually need to be worried about?
Let’s first look at where this fear of candy tampering came from.
The first ever reported case of candy tampering happened in California in 1959. A dentist named William Shyne handed out over 450 pieces of candy-coated laxatives to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters who knocked on his door. This resulted in 30 children becoming violently ill. Luckily, though, all 30 children recovered. Shyne was ultimately charged with “outrage of public decency” and “unlawful dispensing of drugs.”
After this act, the fear of candy tampering was further reinforced in 1970 when the New York Times released their article, “Those Treats May Be Tricks.” The article addressed a series of allegations regarding candy tampering and also ran through various hypothetical scenarios that parents might be faced with if their children went trick or treating.
Ever since then, we have seen media story after media story about the dangers of trick or treating, and many deaths have been linked to what has been called “Halloween sadism.”
A couple of the more famous stories include the story of Timothy O’Bryan, an eight-year-old from Pasadena, TX, who was said to have died after eating cyanide-laced Halloween candy in 1974.An Ottawa girl claimed to have found sewing needles inside her Halloween candy stash in 2016..
Yet, further investigation into these deaths found that these instances of candy tampering were nothing but fabrications.
In the case of Timothy O’Bryan, it was revealed that his father had tampered with the candy. After taking out a life insurance policy on his son, he poisoned the candy and used the fear of candy tampering to cover his crime. The girl who found needles in her candy was found to have put them there herself.
In actuality, there have been no recorded deaths or serious injuries that have been linked to “Halloween sadism.” So, parents don’t necessarily have to worry about someone tampering with their child’s candy.
In reality, the leading cause of death and serious injury on Halloween night is not candy, but cars. According to a 2019 study published by JAMA Pediatrics, children are 43 per cent more likely to be hit by a car than any other night with them running around the streets and going door-to-door. According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, other common injuries on Halloween are eye wounds from sharp costume pieces and burns from flammable costumes.
There’s no need to worry about that either, though. If you’re a parent, there are many ways to ensure your children can have a safe and fun Halloween night.
It starts with costume safety. You want to make sure the costume is fire-resistant and that it doesn’t have any long or baggy pieces to avoid potential tripping hazards. Avoid masks or contact lenses that may obstruct your child’svision. Opt for brightly coloured costumes, or consider the addition of reflective tape to ensure they’re more visible to cars driving by.
When trick-or-treating, you always want to ensure your child is accompanied by you or someone you trust. If your child is old enough to be trick-or-treating on their own, they should always go with a group of friends. Make sure they stick to the sidewalks, only cross the street at intersections, and don’t cross the street between parked cars. You should also remind them to never enter someone’s house or vehicle while trick-or-treating.
And lastly, even though you don’t really have to worry about candy tampering, it’s still recommended that you check your child’s candy before allowing them to eat it. Do a quick check for any signs of tampering, and get rid of any candy that is opened or handmade. You also want to check for potential choking hazards. If your child has any allergies, you’ll also want to do a quick check for any potential allergens.
Halloween is a holiday that feeds off of people’s fear, but that doesn’t mean we need to let that fear stand in the way of traditions. Especially the fun ones.
Graphic by Hayden Carkner