Good news! Stories of tainted candy aren’t any more real than ghosts.
Halloween brings plenty of scares — vampires, zombies, even Monster Houses — but there’s one thing you don’t have to fear: strangers putting something dangerous into kids’ trick or treat bags.
The rumors come around every year and, just like the holiday, are full of legends and superstitions, but there’s never been a single documented case of a child hurt by a stranger purposely handing out tainted Halloween candy.
Don’t take our word for it—just ask Joel Best, a professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware who’s been studying the urban legends of candy laced with poisons, drugs, or sharp objects since 1985.
For 30 years, Best has been studying reports of tainted trick-or-treat candy. He’s even gone back as far as 1958 and has never found a single case where a stranger handed out candy that had been tampered with.
People tend to be more in tune with the idea of candy tampering at Halloween through something called the “Phenomenon of Notice” – like when you buy a new car and suddenly see the same model everywhere. At this time of year, any reports of people finding foreign objects in food become more noticeable, even though it happens year-round when accidents happen at factories.
In the last fifteen years, Best has found reports of only about 7 pieces of candy that had a foreign object in them or their wrappers — and no children were hurt in any of the cases.
[UPDATE: After we published this article, we learned of news reports from Ohio about a razor blade in a candy bar. Police say the wrapper was opened, of course. Officers seized all candy from a home and did not find any others like the one turned in by a youth, whose age remains unreported, and they recommend throwing away any candy in opened wrappers, and inspecting homemade food items.]
Those can account for some of the stories people pass along. Some other cases people hear about turn out to be illness or injuries that have no connection to trick-or-treating. One case was a family member adding something to the candy of their own child, which contributed to the myths we hear every year. But, Best says, the great majority of stories you hear about are hoaxes usually created by kids to scare their fellow trick-or-treaters.
This year, you might have seen on Facebook, a viral post about illicit drugs supposedly being readied to hand out to children. A photo of the party drug ecstasy was tagged with the suggestion that it was deliberately being made to look like candy.
The problem is, the drug traditionally is made in those shapes, as the name suggests, because it is a “party drug.”
Mr. Best discounts it as a non-threat, again repeating there has never been a case of anyone spending the money and time to taint candy with illicit drugs.
To be on the safe side of ‘fright night’, check your kids’ candy for open wrappers and other hazards and discard those. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers safety tips for Halloween costumes, many of which cause the numerous holiday accidents that happen in the dark. Make sure costumes aren’t dragging so low that kids could trip; make sure their peripheral vision isn’t blocked, so they can see vehicles; and prohibit sharp objects. These overlooked costume problems account for the only common Halloween dangers we need to worry about.
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