This year, celebrating the holidays will look different to many of us around the globe, and Halloween will be no different. While it can be difficult to plan how to adhere to COVID-19 pandemic protocols such as self-distancing and mask-wearing during these times, we should aim to remain diligent even while celebrating. As we look forward to breaking out our candy and costumes, here are some safety practices all goblins, ghouls and ghosts can follow.
Remember the basics
Before you head out for festivities or prepare to be around others in any capacity, be sure the excitement doesn’t impact your sticking to safety basics such as wearing a proper face mask that covers both your mouth and your nose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that “[e]veryone should wear a mask in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household.” Although the cloth face coverings recommended by the U.S. government are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, they can assist in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers to others.
Other precautions to maintain are keeping your hands clean and avoiding touching your face (since your eyes, mouth and nose can serve as viral entry points). Clean hands are especially important for before and after trick-or-treating, before you open treats to eat, and before handing out treats to others. While candy and other edible goods have not been identified as agents for COVID-19 transfer, it is important that your hands are clean before you eat. The CDC has noted that “[i]f soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.” If you’re out and about and you know there will not be sink and soap nearby, it’s a good idea to carry hand sanitizer along with you to help keep your hands clean.
Another necessary practice is to maintain social distancing. If you plan to go out to or to host small gatherings (which are best held outside), you should aim to put at least six feet of distance between yourself and people who do not live in your household for both outdoor and indoor activities—in addition to wearing a mask.
If you happen to host a small outdoor gathering or attend one, another great way to minimize contact is to think about how food and beverages are served when gathering. Hosts and attendees should avoid buffet-style meals and treats and opt for personal portions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Instead of sharing beverages, bring your own beverage to reduce “buffet-drinking.” And always be sure to practice safe food-handling principles in order to reduce germ transfer and your risk of foodborne illness.
All treats, no tricks
Many of us may wonder, “Is it safe to eat candy from a store or after trick-or-treating?” In the case of treats purchased from a store, health authorities affirm that there is no evidence that food or food packaging is causing the spread of coronavirus. Because the coronavirus has relatively poor survivability on surfaces (less than three days), there is a low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, and frozen temperatures. Still, it is important to wash or sanitize your hands after handling packages, since a primary line of defense from contracting the virus is keeping your hands clean.
In addition to the basics above, there are a few “treat tactics” that should be followed by families looking to enjoy passed-out treats. While many families may skip Halloween trick-or-treating this year due to pandemic concerns, it is possible to have a “food safety–centered” Halloween. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers the following suggestions to support safety for trick-or-treaters. For young children, these measures should be undertaken with an adult’s help:
- In addition to having clean hands before eating candy, it’s best to wait to eat your candy until after it has been examined for safety at home. Also, it’s best to not pass out, accept or eat anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
- Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.
- Before you leave home, eat a filling snack to help avoid the temptation of eating an uninspected treat while you are out.
- If you have food allergies, check the candy’s label to ensure that allergens are not present. If you cannot tell or if you are unsure, do not eat the candy. Additionally, it is good to have medication like epinephrine on hand in case of accidental ingestion of an allergenic food.
- Avoiding choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, and small toys is important for very young children. Parents should inspect treat bags for these items and remove them as needed.
Halloween may look different this year, but there are many ways to make sure that the scariest part is not food safety. By adhering to these protocols, you can continue to enjoy this fall celebration while having a few treats, too.