Is It Safe to Eat Homemade Halloween Treats?

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

Even if you’re not a person who loves Halloween — the costumes, the candy, the commercialism — there is an aspect of the holiday that’s actually really nice. On this one day, people open up their doors and welcome you into their homes (or at least onto their stoops or porches or driveways). People who might not, on any other given day, even nod hello will greet you with a basket or a plastic pumpkin full of treats.

Unless, of course, you’re thinking what Judith Klemesrud was thinking when she penned a cautionary article for the New York Times on October 28, 1970: Trick or treating on Halloween, she warned, is likely to result in “more horror than happiness.” That “kindly old woman down the block” has probably been busy all week stuffing apples with razor blades.

And that’s not all: “The chocolate ‘candy’ bar may be a laxative, the bubble gum may be sprinkled with lye, the popcorn balls may be coated with camphor, the candy may turn out to be packets containing sleeping pills,” Klemesrud wrote.

(Image credit: Jeff Roffman)

It might sound crazy to think of those friendly neighbors you usually wave to or chat with over the fence as potential poisoners, multiple murderers, and blade-crazed serial killers, but in the world after the 1982 cyanide-laced Tylenol poisoning deaths, maybe it isn’t so far off to think that Halloween’s monsters don’t live exclusively in our imaginations.

These days, even parents who don’t usually helicopter scrupulously examine each and every piece of trick-or-treat loot for the tiniest sign of tampering. Some just throw it out all together and replace it with their own, presumably safe, candy.

So, given that a pre-packaged candy bar is viewed with suspicion, actual homemade treats from an unknown source may as well come with a skull-and-crossbones wrapper. Maryland mom Francesca D. says, “My daughter is now 14, but I would never have allowed her to take anything homemade from strangers. If she came home with a popcorn ball or cookies, I threw them in the trash.”

Trashing homemade goodies from strangers seems to be the prevailing wisdom — and yet, according to Snopes.com, there has never been a single documented case of black-hearted madmen doling out poisoned candy to random children on Halloween. One boy died from cyanide-laced Pixie Stix in 1974, but the culprit wasn’t a creepy stranger; it was his own father, who had taken out a life insurance policy on his son.

As for foreign objects placed in treats by nefarious folks, since 1959 there have been 80 such reports and most of them have turned out to be hoaxes. In fact, the only real threat posed by homemade treats may be in the form of allergens, especially with the rise in life-threatening childhood peanut allergies.

Kristin E., an Army physician in Washington State, says, “My daughter was born with a peanut allergy, and goes into anaphylactic shock — we are among those that carry an EpiPen at all times. So, we have never made or eaten homemade stuff. In fact, she is 16 now, but when she did trick or treat, I would trade it out with candy I knew was safe.”

It’s also true that these days, most parents — especially of little kids — don’t have time to make homemade goodies for the whole neighborhood. Richmond, VA, mom Roxanne F. says, “My job is usually to stay home and pass out the candy. I never would have time to make homemade treats for my kids, much less others.” Still, she adds, “I would say ‘no thanks’ to someone who offered my kids homemade treats, unless I knew the family.”

Perhaps, along with the whole “stranger danger” aspect, a tiny part of the fear and loathing surrounding homemade goodies comes down to a secret suspicion: What kind of superhuman has time for all that?

Bottom line? Allergy issues aside, a homemade treat is probably as safe to consume as anything you’d order out in a restaurant. But for some parents, the risk — no matter how small or imagined — isn’t worth it. And, of course, none of your vigilance can guarantee that you and your kids won’t get a bit sick from eating all of that sugar.