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Posted on Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 7 a.m.

Is Halloween really dangerous for kids?

By Jen Eyer


Here's a Halloween safety pop quiz.

Over the past 50 years, how many American children have been harmed by tainted Halloween candy given to them by a stranger?

a. 24 b. 87 c. 9 d. 0

If you answered d, congratulations! It's true: there hasn't been a single recorded incident of a child being hurt by tainted candy, and in all those decades there have only been a few cases of tainted candy actually being doled out by strangers.

Sociologist Joel Best, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware who has researched the prevalence of tainted treats for more than 20 years, calls it a "contemporary legend." The Gainesville Times interviewed Best in 2008 and wrote this story. An excerpt:

In his review of news coverage dating back to 1958, Best found reports of five child deaths initially attributed to Halloween sadism. All were debunked in one way or another, including the 1974 case of a father who laced his son’s candy with cyanide in order to collect on a life insurance policy.

Of the 80 or so reported cases in which sharp objects were found in apples or other Halloween treats, almost all were pranks and none resulted in serious injuries, according to Best’s research.

Surprised? I was, considering that every year, safety advocates and the media hammer parents with the fear of tainted candy.

For example, this year the Ann Arbor Police Department warns parents that: "It's sad, but true, that some people wish to cause harm. Treats must be checked for potential poisoning or unsafe objects."

It isn't just tainted candy that parents are told to be concerned about. The lists of Halloween safety tips have become so extensive that it's a wonder anyone lets their kids leave the house on Oct. 31.

Again, from the AAPD:

* Sharp or pointed toy weapons are unsafe * Loose costumes, oversized bags or unsafe shoes can cause falls or accidents * Flowing false-hair wigs are unsafe around candles * Wigs and costumes should be of non-flammable materials * Masks reduce vision. If wearing a mask, choose one that is cool, comfortable and easy to see out of. Take off the mask before crossing the street. Better yet, wear make-up instead of a mask.

Whew. I think the issue of mask safety is covered. And I'm not sure what is scarier; the idea that a child might trip and fall over a long costume, or the fact that the police department feels its necessary to remind parents of this.

The greatest danger to kids on Halloween, according to sources like this MedPageToday article, is being hit by a car.

The most recent data on Halloween pedestrian safety was published by the CDC in an October 1997 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The CDC reported that childhood pedestrian deaths jumped fourfold on Halloween night compared with the rest of the year. That figure was based on data collected from 1975 to 1996 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The risk is still very small; according to a U-M Transportation Research Institute study, Halloween traffic accidents amounted to about three additional child deaths per year.

The AAPD points out that children may become careless from excitement and run into the road. They suggest kids wear light colored costumes with added reflective tape.

That's good advice. It's just unfortunate that safety advocates feel the need to outline every possible way a child could get hurt on Halloween, because I think it not only makes parents and kids anxious, but it also minimizes the bigger danger of cars.

So this Saturday, our two kids will wear reflective tape, we'll be especially mindful of traffic, our son will whack people with his dull foam sword, and I'll breathe easier about the candy — though I'll still look through it and take out anything that looks weird or was manufactured in China.

Jen Eyer is on the Community Team at She can be reached at 734-623-2577 or, or you can visit her at 301 East Liberty. "Save My Sanity" is an occasional feature looking at "scare" stories in the media.

Photo by Flickr user Juushika Redgrave



Sat, Oct 31, 2009 : 6:58 p.m.

Note to self: purchase stock in companies that make bubble wrap.


Fri, Oct 30, 2009 : 8:23 a.m.

My kids are trick-or-treating in full regalia, despite potential tripping hazards;) The real risk for my oldest and many other children is a life-threatening peanut allergy. This is not mentioned anywhere in the article, comments or by the AAPD.


Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 1:18 p.m.

I think the social aspect of Halloween outweighs the minimal risks. The kids play aspect of wearing a costume. The kids travel in small groups that teach socializing. The kids travel the neighborhood giving them a connection to their environment. By discussing safety with the kids before they leave gives parents a connection with their kids and allows them to learn safety. OK the kids are rewarded for all of this with a little more candy than they should eat. So what! (How much do we eat for other holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas etc.) For all the parents out there that think they can "protect" their kids. Remember, you can't control their lives forever. Just use Halloween to teach them what you expect of them and let them be part of our social environment!

Homeland Conspiracy

Thu, Oct 29, 2009 : 6:54 a.m.

I hand out Potted Meat. It comes in a sealed can!!!


Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 1:02 p.m.

The real poison is the sugar in the candy the kids are getting. Are you aware of child obesity in our state? I had a great time haunting on Halloween as a kid, but my mom always doled out the candy and made sure we brushed our teeth.


Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 9:41 a.m.

Very interesting study, but not surprising. The media has always tended to blow any little negative story way out of proportion to actual facts. It doesn't mean parents shouldn't do a quick check of their kids' Halloween candy just to be safe. But, I would hope people don't transfer their fear needlessly to their kids and make them afraid of going to houses to ask for candy. I think that the danger of being hit by a car is a REAL risk that should be taken seriously. Reflective areas or strips on costumes and candy bags would really help drivers see Trick or Treaters. I've always been doubly careful when driving on Halloween for this reason. Unfortunately, not everyone is.

Visual Echo

Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 9:19 a.m.

There was a case of a homicide in Houston back in the 70's in which a millionaire poisoned a giant pixie stick given to his son but made it look like a random act. The investigation was flawless, and he was convicted of first degree murder. Even though it wasn't done by a stranger, it completely destroyed Halloween trick or treating in southern Texas for a decade. Tainted candy doesn't happen, and it doesn't have to. The fear is powerful enough. On the other hand, isn't that part of what makes it fun? Walking up to a strange house, knocking on the door, and having some (gasp!) nice person give you candy? We'll be giving out first class brand-name chocolate made in Hershey, Pennsylvania at our house, and we'll have a lot of it. Stop on by, and have a happy Hallows' Eve.


Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 8:53 a.m.

Oh, no, I would never wrap their heads; just make them where a helmet where ever they go.

Rex Roof

Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 8:46 a.m.

tsk tsk. bubble wrap is a suffocation hazard. people who aren't afraid of something ask more questions.


Wed, Oct 28, 2009 : 8:29 a.m.

I believe in keeping my kids safe and all, but how long before we just wrap them in bubble wrap before sending them out?