How Safe is Your Halloween Candy?

October 27, 2009

By Terry Smiljanich:

Halloween is the single biggest holiday for candy sales, but how safe is that candy? Last year’s incidents of deadly poisons in Chinese food products, including milk used in chocolate candy production, raised legitimate concerns over the safety of our imported foods. Should we continue to be concerned?

In 2009, there have been very few recalls by the FDA regarding chocolate or candy production in the United States. In June, the FDA recalled Nestle’s Toll House Cookie Dough based on outbreaks of E. coli infections in 30 states. Parents should reject any “home made” treats in their kid’s trick-or-treat bags from unknown sources, and certainly reject any home-made chocolate chip cookies this season.

The Canadian food safety inspection agency recalled Appleton Chocolates because the ingredient labels did not mention that the chocolates contain milk, thereby creating a potential safety concern for anyone with milk allergies. The British government recalled Asda Chocolate Delights, but this candy does not appear to be distributed in the United States.

The China Recall

In China, unacceptable levels of melamine (a deadly toxin used in plastics and fertilizers) was found in 2008 at several milk production facilities. Thousands of Chinese children were hospitalized or died as a result. Milk is a major component of most chocolate candies.

The two biggest chocolate sellers in America are Hershey’s and Mars. Hershey (Kisses, Reese’s) states that it never purchases milk products from China. Mars (Snickers, M&M’s) states that although it does use Chinese milk, it does not purchase any from the affected Chinese companies. In South Korea, however, the government has recalled Mars products manufactured for sale in that country. Cadbury, another manufacturer of chocolate, has had to recall several of its Chinese-made chocolates.

Hershey and Mars products sold in America are for the most part made in America, although not from 100% American ingredients. The disturbing fact remains, however, that in the ever increasing globalization of our food sources, the Food & Drug Administration inspects less than 1% of food shipments into this country. A recent GAO report found that our current system of regulations leaves the U.S. food chain very vulnerable to a terrorist attack. Currently, food inspections and safety functions are split among 15 different agencies.

The Danger & How to Protect Yourself

The facts are there for everyone to see: 76 million people a year get sick from food-borne hazards, 325,000 are hospitalized, and 5000 die. Meanwhile, 9% of of the food inspector positions remain vacant due to decreased funding of employment dollars for these vital posts.

Parents should follow some simple trick-or-treating safety tips for their children, such as accompanying small children, letting them do their house to house trips only in daylight hours, and inspecting any and all candies or treats given to their children.

We can never achieve 100% food safety, and American food is comparatively safer than that in much of the world. In an age, however, where the percentage of foods we eat are grown or manufactured overseas, or made here from imported products, we have to do a better job. Is there any greater priority out there?