Let Them Eat That Unwrapped Candy!


 I’m so old I remember back when Halloween was supposed to scare the kids.

Now it’s got a lot of parents shaking in their schlocky costumes, terrified that if they let their kids go trick or treating those kids may meet a fate far worse than too many Mary Janes. (“The candy everyone wishes was something else.” That should be its slogan.)

Parents worry their kids will be abducted, of course, or seduced inside for some Satanic rite. They worry the kids will come home with a big, shiny apple and fail to notice the big, razor-sized gash in its side. Most of all, they worry about unwrapped candy – as if any killer really bent on poisoning moppets would be stupid enough not to carefully glue-gun shut his tainted Snickers.

The thing that’s really spooky about all these fears is how gullible the parents are. I spoke with Joel Best, a sociologist who has studied post-Halloween newspapers going back to the 1950s, searching for stories of kiddie crimes. As far as he can tell, no child was EVER poisoned by a stranger’s candy on Halloween. It’s an urban myth. And in fact, the evidence was so convincing to him, he never looked through his own children’s candy before he let them eat it. (Or, for that matter, before he ate it himself.)

Read almost any parenting article today and they will beg you to please, PLEASE examine those treats for tampering. Keep Poison Control’s number handy.  Better still: Just take your child to a Halloween party someplace you trust and don’t let them visit the (probably insane psycho-killing) neighbors at all. The only safe kid is the one kept in a pumpkin.

Provided there’s no candle inside, of course. And that you remove child before carving.



53 Responses to Let Them Eat That Unwrapped Candy!

  1. Jason Gignac October 29, 2008 at 5:13 am #

    Hey… I love Mary Janes…

  2. Denise October 29, 2008 at 5:29 am #

    I am sure that you are right on this one…and I am trying to be as free range as possible…but this is one area where I am completely, utterly paranoid…and will continue to be so.

    Everyone has an irrational fear…and all things considered, I am okay with this one being mine.

  3. Alf Watt October 29, 2008 at 5:37 am #

    Snopes does a good job of debunking this common parent fear:


    In the proces of documenting the few cases of candy related poisoning it points out something that the scary stories about strangers harming children never ever bring up: the people most likeley to harm a child are the parents.

  4. C. M. October 29, 2008 at 5:53 am #

    I agree with your sentiment regarding tampering by the people giving out the candy, but I do have concerns due to the China Melamine issue recently. I will be going through my sons candy this year and removing any chocolate pieces where I can’t recognize the manufacturer.

  5. Amy October 29, 2008 at 7:32 am #

    Amen Sister!! Nothing tastes better than those Almond Joys snitched as the kids aren’t looking, between houses.

    We go trick or treating in OUR NEIGHBORHOOD, where we know people. They would no sooner poison our kids on Oct. 31 than they would when they bring over a casserole when we’ve had a baby, or they would when they bring cookies just because.

    People are nuts. Way to be the voice of reason!

  6. Tracy Adrian October 29, 2008 at 8:09 am #

    Our local “safe” Halloween party even has requested: “no scary costumes, please.” Geez, what’s the point?

  7. Uly October 29, 2008 at 8:50 am #

    CM is correct – just this once. However, while taking special concern over the candy *this* year because there’s a risk *this* year is sensible, taking special concern *every* year is clearly silly.

  8. Jennifer October 29, 2008 at 9:29 am #

    I’m so glad you pointed out this is a urban myth. Even people who know that the hook-handed man and the scorpion-filled exploding cactus aren’t real still shudder at the crazy people who are lurking, waiting to deface a 3 muskateers bar.

  9. Denise G-W October 29, 2008 at 12:37 pm #

    My only purpose for “checking” the candy is to siphon off some of the good stuff for myself before the kids scarf it down.

    Yet I’m sure there will be a local police department here offering to x-ray children’s candy for potential shrapnel. I’m sure, too, that many families will flock to the mall to trick-or-treat at Gap and Victoria’s Secret, seen as a safer alternative than hitting the neighborhood.

    In Seattle, there’s a growing movement around “Green Halloween,” with people giving out small, natural trinkets (no made-in-China plastic geegaws) or treats like honey sticks instead of candy. High fructose corn syrup has replaced eccentric neighbors as the biggest threat, I guess.

  10. becky October 29, 2008 at 1:45 pm #

    The greatest danger I see is people driving their kids to the “better” neighborhoods to trick or treat. Driving is dangerous and losing connections to neighbors is dangerous as well.

  11. Guénolée October 29, 2008 at 7:24 pm #

    Years ago, when I trick or treated at Halloween (& in Des Moines of that age we had to do a trick like somersault, tell poem, etc. to get that treat) several neighbors handed out home-made cupcakes or cookies. Think those treats even made it home to be checked? Nope. I’ve always let my son eat what he wanted from his bag – as long as he rationed it.

  12. Ralphinjersey October 29, 2008 at 9:27 pm #

    On the way home after trick-or-treating, don’t forget to swing by your friendly neighborhood ER to have all the goodies X-rayed — for free!

  13. Mama of 5 October 29, 2008 at 9:51 pm #

    I remember as a kid my parents taking my candy to the hospital where they offered free xray services of your bag of candy to be sure there were no ‘foreign objects’ stashed inside to kill you.
    At my kids school, they have a rule about costumes- no scary costumes AND you have to be a book character! My 5 year old son wants to be the black spiderman… do comic book characters count?!? Halloween just gets more difficult the older I get- I just wish it could be easy again.
    Its hard to be free-range when everyone around you seems to be paranoid. I’ve actually been told I was irresponsible for having 5 children because I can’t possibly watch them all properly. If by watch properly they mean hover- then I’m glad I had 5 kids!

  14. NJMom October 29, 2008 at 11:57 pm #

    I agree with Mama of 5, “Halloween just gets more difficult the older I get…”. It is difficult because, again, adults have taken over what should be the business of children. The “Halloween Experience” is just another example of the over parenting of today. Why I don’t like Halloween, as explained to my husband: First of all, with other parents, I have to discuss with other parents what my children will be for Halloween (I cannot ever imagine my mother discussing my costume with her peers). Second, I have to explain why my children won’t be in the town Halloween parade (they don’t want to). Third, I have to explain why I won’t be at the school Halloween parade (I don’t want to). Fourth, we have to think carefully about their costumes so that they function for school and the street–no scary stuff at school! It can’t look too just-pulled-together for school! Fifth, I have to make arrangements with other like-minded parents to see if they will let their children have a free-range trick-or-treating experience with my son. Sixth, I have to make arrangements for my daughter to have adult and kid company as she goes trick-or-treating (she does not want to go with her brother). By the time it’s all over, I’m pretty exhausted and sick of the whole thing. I could care less about what kind of candy they get. I remember, back in the day, when Halloween rolled around, sometimes we would get inspired and really dress up. Other times, we would just put sheets over our heads and be ghosts. My brother’s fall back was to be a “bum”–just wear a bunch of old clothes. Now that’s not good enough–kids have to be SOMETHING SPECIAL. They can’t just be kids.

  15. Rebecca Smith October 30, 2008 at 12:16 am #

    My husband wrote a post on this very topic for his blog this week as well.

  16. Virtual Linguist October 30, 2008 at 1:36 am #

    This post and the comments are very interesting to a Brit. Here in England kids aren’t satisfied with candy — they ask for money!
    Thames Valley Police have published a list of guidelines for Halloween on their ‘crime reduction’ page:
    * Parents or a responsible adult should always accompany children to make sure that they stay safe.
    * Parents should identify neighbours who are willing to have trick or treat calls.
    * Make these neighbours aware of approximately what time you plan to call.
    * Discuss with these neighbours what treats are appropriate.
    * If money is given, identify a charity for this to be donated to.
    * Discuss what ‘tricks’ are acceptable with your children.
    * Parents should discourage older children (teenagers) from trick or treating – it is an activity for young children. As a rule, if they are old enough to trick or treat on their own, they are too old to do it.

    You can also download a poster to display in your window, which says ‘No trick or treat: please enjoy your night without disturbing ours’.

    If you want to read more, it’s here:

  17. MadWomanMeg October 30, 2008 at 1:38 am #

    My kids love trick or treating. I watch parents escort their kids right up to the door, hold their hands the whole time, and then inspect the candy upon receipt.

    My kids are 4 and 6. I walk around the neighbourhood with them, sure. But I stand on the sidewalk and watch with pleasure as they skip up the path to the different doors and do their thing. They happily accept all the handfuls of candy and we move on to the next house.

    We enjoy the scariness, we love the houses that decorate in scary ways. And yet we have friends who think it’s “wrong” the way things have become.

    I think it’s wrong that we are so desperate to be PC nowadays and soooo safe that we’ve lost all the fun.

  18. Jennifer October 30, 2008 at 1:52 am #

    “scorpion-filled exploding cactus”


    Never heard THAT one!

    Even worse than the whole candy thing (I mean seriously, if I were a child-killer, I wouldn’t do something that’s that much of a pain in the ass!) is the fact that one town around here has MOVED Halloween from Halloween night to the PREVIOUS SUNDAY DURING THE DAY. Way to kill it! All in the name of Safety, of course.

    There is one unintentional up-side though: I can take my son on the day Halloween and then find another town and do Oct. 31st and get twice the haul, he he he.

  19. Mrs. Mustard October 30, 2008 at 2:25 am #

    I am taking my son trick or treating for the first time. He is 2. He eats gum off the ground on a regular day, so why would I care about unwrapped candy on Halloween? Just because it came from a neighbour? Puh-leese.

  20. Susan K October 30, 2008 at 8:15 am #

    Our town is one that has moved Halloween to the Sunday closest. However, they have done this for at least 15 years.
    They have a parade, costume contest and then open the town for t-or-t.
    We have been known to go to neighboring towns for night-time trick or treating. :-)

  21. Culdesachero October 30, 2008 at 9:59 am #

    I think Hallowe’en is important. I provides an antithesis to all the angels and joy of Christmas. It allows children a friendly way to out their fears and ideas that life is also full of creepy crawlies, bats and rotting flesh. I’m thinking of those rubber zombie masks that you can’t find anymore. They were dangerous anyways – hard to breath through the small holes and your child might just suffocate if he isn’t smart enough to pull it up over his head before he’s asphyxiated, not to mention the sight obstruction.
    Anyways, it’s not only fun but important to face these fears and also to experiment with being scary themselves (if desired). It’s this aspect that is completely lost on the parents who must shield their kids from everything scary. LET KIDS BE KIDS!

  22. Jamie | WiredParentPad October 30, 2008 at 11:40 am #

    Amen! This is a classic among the many unfounded fears we as parents possess. Even the recent Chinese chocolate stories have nothing to do with tampering – the problem there is the manufacturer.

    I’ve been trick or treating with our kids for ten years now, and I have yet to inspect their candy prior to them indulging in it.

  23. Debra Hunter October 30, 2008 at 12:29 pm #

    HI Lenore – I am the President of JB — we are excited to be publishing your book in the Spring.

    Here’s a summary of a story from my local paper, the Marin Independent Journal on October 21st. A local hair stylist in San Rafael, California has decorated his yard for Halloween with spiders, headstones, and skeletons, and also pays homage to his favorite Hollywood heroes such as Freddy Kreuger, Jason, and Leatherface. There are parents who “love the house”, e.g Caroline Nelson a local real estate agent with kids ages 6, 4 and 2. But there are others who are terrified and don’t want their kids to even see the display. “The nun wearing a gas mask and a crucifix and holding a skull was particularly terrifying,” said Gigi Bibeault, who called the police to file a hate crime complaint.

    No code violations, said the city…we are not in the business of censorship and neighbors just have to work these things out.

    Aren’t kids supposed to be scared at Halloween? Isn’t this a part of growing up? Isn’t that why we read fairy tales and why Halloween exists? It is amazing to me that we can imagine that we could cocoon our kids in mall trick-or-treating and never once let them walk by themselves to a “stranger’s” door….in my experience, it is great for kids to get a little scared, feel some independence, and learn at Halloween that neighbors are mostly really good, fun and reliable people.

  24. Virtual Linguist October 30, 2008 at 10:10 pm #

    Following on from Debra’s story, there’s a similar story in the UK press about a couple forced (by their landlord) to take down ‘a life-size array of skeletons, zombies, witches and a tombstone’ after complaints from neighbors. One complainant said the models were too ‘life-like and realistic’. Life-like? Realistic? Zombies, monsters and witches?
    Here’s a picture and the story:

  25. Mandy October 31, 2008 at 2:17 am #

    My absolute favorite childhood memory is the heart-pounding, counting down the minutes until it’s legal to beg all your neighbors for candy, costume-putting-on day of Halloween! There was absolutely nothing like the minute the clock flipped to 7 pm (yes, I know now its more like 4 pm… better get all those kids in before dark!). BYE MOM!!!!! We would fly out the door, pillowcases in hand (forget those wimpy plastic pumpkins) and begin what should have been called the Trick-or-Treat Marathon. Mom didn’t have that kind of energy. To top it off- she actually let us KEEP our candy for the whole first week, and eat as much as we wanted before putting it away to be rationed more sensibly. What is the fun of GETTING all that candy if you can’t wallow in it??? You better believe my kids are going to get the exact same Halloween rights I had… and if anyone was paranoid about those urban legend candy poisoning myths, it was ME! I remember chucking quite a few pieces I decided looked “suspicious” because they were squished or a tiny corner was open…. adults these days seem to have completely forgotten that their self-preservation instinct has been working all their lives- and the same thing goes for their kids!

  26. Joe Kavanagh October 31, 2008 at 2:25 am #

    Very good post. I have to say the poison/ “bad” candy from neighbors is really a stretch. I could never give that much validity. I love Halloween. We are lucky in our neighborhood everyone gets involved. Lot of decorations and eveyone sits on their porch waiting for the kiddies to come around. My boys love it and have been bouncing off the ways in anticipation. This year should be even better since it’s a Friday. I do check their candy but mostly to get rid of hard stuff that I don’t want them chewing ( dental issues for both) but also if a stray Snickers is in there well Dad might just have to grab that! Not worried about poison or razor blades! It’s sort of the official last big neighborhood party before the cold weather really kicks in to gear here. It’s a great chance to talk to old neighbors and meet new ones. It’s pure fun for us adults and the kids. So, everyone have a great and safe (not sure from what?)

  27. Janice October 31, 2008 at 8:48 pm #

    We live in a small subdivision, two square blocks with only one entrance from the main road. My husband and I sat out in the driveway to hand out candy and greet the parents. Most parents let the kids come up by themselves, but we actually had two groups that pulled up in a car! The kids climbed out and collected their candy, then got back in the car – unbelievable!
    I also like to go through my kids’ loot, just to find the stuff I like and pilfer it when they’re at school – haha.

  28. RepSoccrMom October 31, 2008 at 8:55 pm #

    You are right on. The razor blade in apple scare was a complete fabrication. Which goes to prove that if you repeat a lie enough, people begin to believe it. I think that’s the Republican’s strategy this year (LOL)

    This year, my 8 year old wants to trick or treat with his 7 year old friend alone. To be honest, I’d rather stay home because I love to scare the kids! I live on a circle and I’ve taken him door to door in the past.

    I am sure the neighborhood is safe and I am going to let him do it – but NONE of my friends and coworkers will do it – even for their kids that are 10.

    Well, today’s the 31st – here goes..

  29. Holly October 31, 2008 at 10:22 pm #

    I have 3 articles which discuss this issue:

    Here is a snopes post about the objects in candy:

    and one about poisonings for Halloween:

    and a local newspaper article:

    As for me, the kids will trick-or-treat in our neighborhood. I will look at the candy briefly while we sort it into piles of chocolate vs. not-chocolate, I will probably pitch anything that is open just for sanitary reasons, and the kids will eat the rest.

  30. Tracee Sioux November 1, 2008 at 4:14 am #

    Everyone knows that parents just tell their kids that so they can eat the snickers or candied apple after the kids go to bed.

    I’m totally eating half my kids candy – for their own protection – lol

  31. Alana M November 1, 2008 at 8:28 am #

    Let them eat all the candy.

    Let them carry weapons if their costume allows it.

    Let them go ALL THE WAY up to the porch without you.

    If they are over 10, let them go out alone.

  32. Mark U November 1, 2008 at 11:07 pm #

    Okay, so today I can imagine all the parents thinking everyone’s worst nightmare happened and this free range kids thing is totally wrong. After all, a 12 year old boy *DID* get shot dead last night.

    But, his parents were with him every step of the way (and were shot at as well but not hit), they went to their “safe” party, there was no candy poisoned or not involved.

    Absolutely none of the parenting safety tips would have helped the one kid who did get killed last night. The parents followed all of them. That doesn’t mean stricter safety tips are needed. It means really rare, tragic things happen and they’re so rare and unheard of we just need to live life and know there’s a reason they make the news around the world…

    My prayers go out to their family for the tragedy they suffered, and I also pray people won’t say “see, we need even stricter safety measures”. NOTHING, other than keeping the kid in a pumpkin – or his bedroom – would have stopped this tragedy.

  33. Marinka November 2, 2008 at 4:26 am #

    I thought it was well accepted that “inspect candy for safety” was our parental code for “gorge on it yourself”. Thanks for blowing our cover.

  34. Marinka November 2, 2008 at 4:27 am #

    P.S. What kind of a freak hands out unwrapped candy, anyway? What kind of candy comes unwrapped, Skittles?

  35. bombaygirl November 2, 2008 at 5:56 am #

    We walked our kids, ages 4 and 2, around the neighborhood last night. Didn’t set out until it got dark, so around 6:30. We stayed on the sidewalk and let them run up to the doors, knock or ring the doorbells, and interact with the neighbors without us hovering (besides being on the sidewalk, that is!) They loved it. My husband asked if I wanted to look over the loot when we got home; I didn’t really, but I went along only because he asked…the scariest things in there were the candy that were leftovers from last halloween….crusty crumbly chocolate bars and flattened reeses pieces. The kids had as much as they wanted last night, and then I dumped the rest into a bag in the pantry, and doled out a few pieces into their bags this morning before they woke up.

  36. BMS November 2, 2008 at 7:30 am #

    I admit I had to walk up to doors with my 6 year old last night. That’s because he and his brother went as a washer and dryer. Have you ever seen a washer try to get down stairs?

    But the costumes were their own idea, we made them together, and they got rave reviews from friends and teachers at school. Half the neighborhood took pictures of them. So what if they were a little hard to move in? They had a great time, and I have (burp) inspected their candy, and found it delicious.

  37. crossgirl November 4, 2008 at 1:13 am #

    I don’t want to scare anyone, but really, if you were going to poison people, wouldn’t it be easier at your local supermarket in the produce aisle? All that unwrapped fruit! Horrors!! Is that a blemish on your apple or is it…………a needle mark?!

    Walking up to the door by yourself is one of the scary- funnest parts of Halloween especially if the homeowner has set up some sort of special effects.

    We didn’t see many people out trick or treating. For every house where we got a treat, there were three or four with no one home or inside hiding with the lights off. I’m wondering if the not homes were out in a “better” neighborhood across town hoping for better candy. And what is this mythical better candy that the “rich” neighborhoods have anyway?

  38. Dan November 5, 2008 at 2:01 am #

    I just read your article, “Whatever happened to Mary Janes?”
    and you mentioned some of my favorite candies. You can still get Sno cones, Charleston Chews, Mary Janes and those perfectly spherical M&M-like candies which are called Sixlets at Walmarts here in Arkansas. Well, maybe not Mary Janes but I do run across them from time to time. If you can’t find them and can’t live without them, email me and I’ll send you some.

  39. Ramblin' Rabbit November 5, 2008 at 2:19 am #

    Marinka: Some people handed out home-made treats. Popcorn/ popcorn balls, cookies, cupcakes, etc. But now Hershey, Nestle and co make bank on Halloween by capitalizing on parental fears.

  40. Sara Smiles Brightly November 5, 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    Excellent points!!!!!

  41. Jennifer November 6, 2008 at 7:39 am #

    We checked the kids’ candy this year as we do every year and will continue to do. I’m glad I did, because we don’t allow them to eat anything MADE IN CHINA and this year found some strange gummy-like candy animal shapes (hard to tell what they were supposed to be) which we promptly disposed of in the trash. I feel I do have a justified fear of them ingesting anything from that country. They poison their own babies with tainted formula and their government does not value human life.

  42. Heather November 15, 2008 at 6:35 am #

    I love Halloween! I take my 6 year old, but only because I genuinely enjoy watching him go to the door and talking to people — I don’t walk up with him, so it is amusing what he might say to others!! Our town has made trick or treating a bit difficult though, because it starts very early (before 5) and you must be done by dark. When I was a kid, we didn’t start until dark.

    On another note, I have sent a letter requesting someone to remove a Halloween decoration. It was a “person” hanging from a tree that had a motor attached so it moved as though the person was slowly dying. I had an issue with it for 2 reasons. 1. It seemed a bit racist to say the least. and 2. I had a very close friend that died by hanging himself — and I think that the people that put that up didn’t realize that a decoration can be hurtful when it brings back a very painful visual reminder of a loved one’s death. I sent a very nice note after Halloween asking them to reconsider that particular decoration in the future. They have not put that up since then.

  43. DeeDee November 15, 2008 at 12:47 pm #

    The thing I worried about most was driving home from work and being able to see the kids. THAT was scary!

  44. carri November 20, 2008 at 10:23 pm #

    We don’t check our daughter’s candy either. If the strangers who manufactured her chocolate and lollipops aren’t doing anything to them, I have no reason to believe our friend and stranger neighbors are doing anything to them either.

    As for trick or treating, she was allowed to go without adults. Unfortunately her friends’ parents were not with me on that. :(

  45. Kim November 28, 2008 at 11:42 pm #

    I live in Toronto, Canada and I have let my children trick or treat every halloween (they’re older now & go to parties with friends instead these days). However, this year there were several instances where children/parents found blue pills inside smarties boxes. I didn’t follow the story long enough to find out if authorities discovered what the pills were. I consider myself a free range parent but do think it’s wise to check the kids’ candies before they eat them & most importantly, to teach your kids to do so as well.

  46. Rhonda December 13, 2008 at 4:28 am #

    I live in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area too and the tampering incident happened in Pickering, about 10 min. east of Toronto. More info here:


  47. Judy Markoff December 31, 2008 at 10:59 am #

    Hey Lenore:
    Love the book cover with the little girl………I think graphically it says what you want to say , the cover is light, airy and attractive and the calligraphy is better in my opinion than the boy cover. The boy cover looks dreary in color and tone and wouldn’t say to me “pick up this book”……..so take that for what its worth.

    Luv your cuz, Judy

  48. Chris Palmer January 1, 2009 at 6:02 am #

    We love Halloween and usually have a front yard party that all of the neighbors are allowed to attend. We cook hotdogs and have themed homemade snacks like bones (bread sticks), soylent green (green sugar cookie squares – the kids never get the joke), Jello in a brain mold, etc. We also have hot mulled wine for the adults. The kids are free to trick-or-treat all over the neighborhood (well, they are teens now, so that’s no longer an issue).

    Some of the parents who come up (even ones from our immediate neighborhood) seem freaked out when we offer them and their kids hotdogs, cookies, or punch which is even crazier when you consider that we are all sitting there eating the same things.

    My favorite “bad parent” Halloween moment was when my kids were much younger and I was walking with them around the street in the dark (more because they were afraid of going up to other people’s houses) and it was that late in the game that I realized my son was dressed as a ninja – total black head-to-toe :-)

    One old couple used to hand out apples and oranges. They were always eaten without x-rays or metal detectors.

  49. Property Management Chicago November 2, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

    Maybe true, maybe not. But anything that is scary in nature – I don’t let my children have anything to do with it. But “it’s trick and treat”, you say, it’s just all fun… well, maybe we can think of something else that is funny, soothing & enjoyable to do as a family during that day… let’s skip the candies just for a day or two…

  50. content creation April 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

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