Halloween Candy & Risk

English: A PayDay candy bar, broken in half. C...
But where is the razor blade?!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So in Orphan Heirs & Shades of Night, Robin reflects upon the real and imagined dangers of Halloween, including the popular fear of tainted candy. However, Robin says, the risks are actually quite low, as there has never been a confirmed case of Halloween candy poisoning.

Every year, parents are lashed into a panic by hyberbolic warnings of trick or treating dangers. Alternative candy-grab events are promoted, at shopping malls or store parking lots. (I’m really not sure how accepting candy from a stranger at a shopping mall is significantly safer than accepting candy from a neighbor on your street, but whatever makes you happy.) But the risks are somewhat overstated. Let’s look back on this last Halloween and see how we did.

Poison in Halloween Candy

While it’s true that there have been a few cases where poisoned Halloween candy was blamed for a child’s serious illness or death, it’s also true that in each of these cases the cause was later found to be family blaming the candy to cover up their own accidental homicide (a five-year-old boy died after finding and eating his uncle’s heroine stash, and the family laced the kid’s candy to protect the uncle) or straight-up murder (an eight-year-old was poisoned by his father, who hid the poison in his Halloween candy). The random stranger poisonings just aren’t to be found in actual history.

English: An Idaho Spud candy bar, split in hal...
Just because it looks innocent doesn’t mean it’s not full of sweet DEATH.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2015, that number of confirmed cases of poisoned trick-or-treat candy appears to remain zero.

Drugs in Halloween Candy

Similar warnings of expensive street drugs being given out to random children are likewise dubious. No one is going to hand over three or four digits’ worth of illegal drugs to a bunch of little kids. Even if the alleged goal is to get the kids hooked, this makes little sense: most small children don’t have the disposable income to support a habit, which makes them bad customers, and even if they did, they probably don’t know which house the drugs-as-candy came from, and their curious travel down the street ringing doorbells to ask for more Ecstasy is going to make staying below the legal radar difficult for the supplier. This is purely a case of someone grabbing a photo of colorful drugs and creating a scary story from scratch.

I like fiction, obviously, but I prefer it labeled as fiction and not sold as news.

There was a case in 2000 of marijuana showing up disguised as Halloween candy, but it turned out to have been entirely unintentional — the bag of “candy bars” was an attempt at smuggling through the mail, but when the package hit the dead letter office, a postal worker gave the candy away.

Reports of drugs-as-candy or drug-laced candy from 2015 of which I am aware? Zero.

Razor Blades, Needles, Pins, and Pokey Bits in Halloween Candy

There have been actual reports of foreign objects inserted into candy. Needles and razor blades are the classic fears. But even here, the risk is lower than generally advertised. Pretty much all the reports turn out to be hoaxes, inserted by the kids themselves to scare parents or parents themselves to scare kids or other local parents. Occasionally they are stupid pranks gone wrong — but within the family, not someone handing trapped treats out during trick-or-treating.

As Best and Horiuchi (authors of the Razor Blade) note, more than 75 percent of reported cases involved no injury, and detailed followups in 1972 and 1982 concluded that virtually all the reports were hoaxes concocted by the children or parents. (Jack Santino, Halloween folklorist)

And here’s Joel Best himself, a sociology and criminal justice professor at the University of Delaware who has researched this urban myth back through the fifties:

“I have been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.” (Washington Post)

Reports of booby-trapped candy did appear in 2015, but one should maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. I saw one report from Reynoldsburg, Ohio of a razor blade inside a small candy bar (one story and picture originally at ijreview.com/2015/10/459220-ohio-halloween-candy). Only a single piece was reported; no one else in the area seems to have found anything. Though there was only a single candy bar found, another report shows photos of multiple candy bars, with different types of blades (and even different brands of wrappers). This isn’t a case of just using a stock photo because they didn’t have an image, as they used the single image from the above-linked story but also multiple others; I suspect a scare tactic to grab clicks by making the incident appear larger than it was — if it was an incident at all. I haven’t found any follow-up, so maybe police decided it was a hoax after all. Scary headlines always sell better than retractions or reassurances.

An initially more credible case was reported here. This case involved multiple pieces of candy discovered by several different kids. There’s a single line appended to the story now, though: “Chester County authorities determined the Kennett Square incident was a hoax.”

I don’t have a total number of reports of foreign-object candy for 2015, but I myself saw the news stories above and one hint of another report but without details. One confirmed hoax, two unconfirmed reports. So let’s be generous and call it two. Two possible cases, neither followed up, out of 600 million pounds of candy sold for Halloween, the equivalent of 16 billion fun-size Snickers bars.

Circles & Crossroads, a glowing jack o'lantern over a textured dark circle

As Robin mused, we like to focus on less realistic threats (strangers randomly poisoning children!) to avoid the more realistic. I think we’re probably safe to eat that leftover Halloween candy.

Oh, and if you hadn’t seen it, both “And Only the Eyes of Children” and Orphan Heirs & Shades of Night are available in one volume here.

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