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Teal Pumpkins Help Kids With Food Allergies Trick-or-Treat

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Halloween can be a nightmare for parents of children with food allergies.

But the Food Allergy Research and Education group is hoping to change that with their Teal Pumpkin project.

A teal-painted pumpkin on the front porch signifies to parents of trick-or-treating children that items like stickers, pencils and small toys are available, in addition to candy.

Holly VanHorn, the mother of a five year old with multiple food allergies, said during Halloween, normal candies can become unsafe for her son.

"The Hershey's milk chocolate bar is safe normally, however when they process down for the miniatures, it becomes unsafe because it's now processed on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts,” VanHorn said.

VanHorn said thanks to the large number of people in her Riverview neighborhood who participate, her son gets to enjoy the sweet-filled holiday like other kids.

“When I was in Target the other day, there were two women talking about how they were going to participate even through their own children didn’t have food allergies,” VaHorn said. “That did not happen three years ago.”

Dennis Ledford is a Tampa doctor with the Allergy and Asthma Network.

He only recently learned about the Teal Pumpkin project, but said this time of year is tricky because of multiple holidays.

"It's not just Halloween, because the number of  gatherings and favorite family recipes often include foods that could be allergens and people are distracted and having a good time and sometimes don't think about these things as much as they would in other circumstances,” Ledford said.

Ledford suggests parents check food labels, carry EpiPens and don't accept homemade treats. But he warns parents about being too overprotective.

“We want to enable children to have relatively normal lives and not make them feel like they’re different or unable to participate in activities around the holidays," Ledford said. 

The Teal Pumpkin project doesn’t discourage handing out candy, but encourages non-edible items as another option.

“It is a night for kids to have fun and nobody wants to end up in the emergency room,” VanHorn said.

And, she added, “Nobody wants to take away from other kids eating candy and peanuts, too. It’s about everyone having a great time.”

Look for participating households or add yours:


Ideas for Non-Food Treats

  • Glow sticks, bracelets, or necklaces
  • Pencils, pens, crayons or markers
  • Bubbles
  • Halloween erasers or pencil toppers
  • Mini Slinkies
  • Whistles, kazoos, or noisemakers
  • Bouncy balls
  • Finger puppets or novelty toys
  • Coins
  • Spider rings
  • Vampire fangs
  • Mini notepads
  • Playing cards
  • Bookmarks
  • Stickers
  • Stencils
Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.