King family: Teal pumpkins can save lives

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

After 3-year-old Thatcher King bops from house to house in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume on Halloween night, collecting his booty of treats and salivating over the candy he’ll soon get to consume, parents Wyatt and Megen King will first confiscate the ones that could kill him.
They’re not like most parents who throw out candy that looks like it’s been tampered with by ill-meaning people. Instead, the candy they’re tossing out was given by well-intentioned neighbors who handed out a piece of candy that contained peanuts or was processed in a facility that had peanuts in it at some point.
According to Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), one in 13 children have allergies that could kill them. Thatcher is one of them. As a child with a deadly food allergy, he will use a teal pumpkin bucket during his trick-or-treating. The teal pumpkin is FARE’s trademark to help families recognize when a trick-or-treater needs an allergy-safe treat.
The Kings will also erect a teal-colored banner in front of their own home to indicate they offer treats for other kids who need that safeguard.
“That way the parents know what homes are trying to specifically be allergy-safe, and people who hand out candy can see the teal pumpkin and know that kid can’t do peanuts,” Wyatt King said.
There are brands of candy available that offer similar popular brand name candies, such as Pea Not Cups by No Whey! Foods, which replaces Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. King also mentioned Yum Earth and Zollipops, but other brand-name candies could be an option, too.

The King family (some of them a little restless) poses with their banner and teal pumpkin trick-or-treat bucket, and some allergy-free candy options.

“A lot of the non-chocolate candies are safe,” Megen King said. “The biggest thing is the manufacturing processes because you don’t really know what else has been manufactured. So you have to check the labels every time.”
She listed a few alternatives, such as Sweet Tarts, jelly beans, suckers and lollipops, Tootsie Rolls, and Smarties. Toys such as glow sticks, necklaces or plastic vampire teeth could also be an option.
“The kids grow up being told, ‘No, you can’t have this. Let me check. Sorry buddy, you don’t get that. No, we can’t go there,’” Wyatt King said. “So we really focus on trying to get candies that feel like they’re just regular candy.”
Sifting through treat options is not a once-a-year event, though. The Kings have to be careful about class parties, other holiday events and organization festivities, where treats of all kinds (and trace contamination) are usually found in abundance. So when inviting kids over for a party, King recommended hosts consider providing only allergy-safe treats.
“(Thatcher’s) not even 4 and he already resents his allergy,” King said. “It’s really heartbreaking. We have to look at everything. When we start looking at the label, he’ll say, ‘It not peanut!’”
They’re also on edge when attending sports events where peanuts are sold. That’s because trace amounts of the peanut protein can contaminate an object and cause a dangerous reaction. The second time Thatcher had an anaphylactic reaction was when he was exposed to an unidentified allergen at a babysitter’s house. In that case, the Kings believe perhaps another child had been exposed to peanut butter and transferred the protein to a toy.
At another facility, King expressed gratitude for Our Saviour’s Lutheran Little Ewe Preschool’s efforts to change its policies and become peanut-free a whole year before Thatcher’s anticipated arrival, but he knows he can’t expect every home and organization to accommodate as well as they did.
“We don’t expect the world to mold itself to make our lives safer, but just being aware of it and knowing what to do in that scenario will save lives,” he said.
FARE lists its top nine foods that cause the worst reactions in the United States. They are crustacean shellfish, egg, fish, milk, peanut, sesame, soy, tree nuts and wheat. But even allergy-free foods can be a risk when ingredients are processed in a facility that processes different products.

Provided by FARE

A large majority of the world can enjoy any food, but “it really can be as simple as a speck of something getting someplace it shouldn’t be and killing a kid. That’s the consideration we hope people have,” King said.
He recalled a story about 42-year-old Celia Marsh who had a dairy allergy and died after eating a vegan wrap because its dressing contained traces of milk protein. Though the wrap was dairy-free, the dressing contained a filler that was manufactured at a facility that handled dairy products.
“Cross contamination from shared processing is 100% a thing,” he said. “Kids die from it. Every year, kids die from something that should’ve been safe.”
One of the messages King wants people to remember is ‘Epi first, Epi fast.’
“If you’re ever around somebody with allergies and you’re worried they’re having an anaphylactic reaction, Epi first and Epi fast,” he said.
Even if it turns out the person was not having an anaphylactic reaction, King believes no parent should ever be mad that their $300 EpiPen was wasted, because their child is worth more than that.
Homes offering allergy-safe treats can register on a map at FARE. For more information, visit https://www.tealpumpkinproject.org.