Turns Out The Evil Halloween Candy Poisoners Was Just FUD That Got You To Buy Prepackaged Candy

from the check-the-wrappers dept

When I moved into my current home a few years back, I discovered (a few weeks later) on Halloween that one of my neighbors is a professional choclatier, when a pair of insanely delicious home-made caramel candy apples were delivered to my house as a “reverse trick-or-treat.” It was definitely a nice “welcome to the neighborhood” moment. However, even though I knew I could trust these apples, it immediately brought me back to when I was a kid, when there were all these big scary news stories about people poisoning candy and putting razors in caramel candy apples for neighborhood trick-or-treaters. I remember my parents followed the evening news’ recommendations of immediately taking the bags of candy we came home with and to spread them out on the kitchen table to go through them looking for exposed candy or loose wrappers to dump in the garbage. It was serious business. These days, many places are so worried about the scary poisoning/razor-blading neighbors that they’ve officially tried to move trick-or-treating to local businesses away from residences.

I’d never really thought much about the scare stories and whether or not they true. When I was a kid, I assumed of course they were true. It was being reported on the news, and I think my school sent home paper warnings as well. How could it not be true? However, Samira Kawash, who is apparently an expert in “candy,” is writing a series of posts about Halloween, and one of them notes that the whole story of poisoned/razor-bladed Halloween candy from sadistic neighbors is almost entirely a myth. The number of children really harmed by such things? “Approximately zero.”

It turns out that the Halloween sadist is about 1 percent fact and 99 percent myth. One California dentist in 1959 did pass out candy-coated laxatives, and some kids got bad stomachaches. But instances over the past 40 years where children were allegedly harmed by tainted candy have invariably fallen apart under scrutiny. In some cases, there was evidence that someone (a family member) was attempting to harm a particular child under cover of Halloween. In other cases, poisoning which had another cause was misattributed to candy. Not surprisingly, the myth created its own reality: As the stories of Halloween tampering spread, some kids got the idea of faking tampering as a sort of prank. Despite all evidence to the contrary, the myth persists.

Of course, in retrospect, this makes sense. We see stories all the time these days of the press (and sometimes groups of parents) creating a moral panic around some dubious piece of information about “harm to children” that never seems to stand up to any serious scrutiny. But, as Kawash notes, “the myth persists.” And, while they may not be the reason the myth started or persisted, the main beneficiaries of the myth were the big candy companies, who actually have been linked to health problems at industrial food processing plants:

Wrappers are like candy condoms: Safe candy is candy that is covered and sealed. And not just any wrapper will do. Loose, casual, cheap wrappers, the kind of wrappers one might find on locally produced candies or non-brand-name candies, are also liable to send candy to Halloween purgatory. The close, tight factory wrapper says “sealed for your protection.” And the recognized brand name on the wrapper also lends a reassuring aura of corporate responsibility and accountability. It’s a basic axiom of consumer faith: The bigger the brand, the safer the candy.

Ironic, since we know that the most serious food dangers are those that originate from just the kind of large-scale industrial food processing environments that also bring us name-brand, mass-market candies. Salmonella, E. coli, and their bacterial buddies lurking in bagged salads and pre-formed hamburger patties are real food dangers; home-made cookies laced with ground glass are not.

Kawash notes that all of this has come at the cost of good, home-made treats, which actually may have been safer for kids. So, as we hit Halloween weekend, I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities for eating processed candy options, but perhaps it’s time to put an end to the old myth.

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Comments on “Turns Out The Evil Halloween Candy Poisoners Was Just FUD That Got You To Buy Prepackaged Candy”

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39 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Bogus PSA

When you look at the facts it is clear that tampering with candy just doesn’t happen. These PSA warning in the US are the equivalent of warning about Bigfoot if you go camping.

I have always felt this is just another way to keep the populace scared. People will poison your children! Keeps everyone on edge and not trusting each other which is exactly the opposite that the actual reality of Halloween teaches us.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Bogus PSA

True. Even homemade candy is VERY safe and also, many times has less chemical additives in it than the pre-packaged stuff.

This needs to be sent out LOUD AND CLEAR by the mainstream media, to make people realize that there are VERY FEW people sick & twisted enough to want to poison children on Halloween…. and most of them are the kid’s own parents!

Anonymous Coward says:

To the extent that the MSM doesn’t purposely spread lies anymore, it’s only because the Internet doesn’t allow it to. The MSM would lie to us about everything w/o the scrutiny of the Internet, and the MSM used to lie about everything just 10 years ago even. It was really bad 20 years ago. Comparing the news now to how it was 15 years ago there is a world of difference, the MSM doesn’t spread such obvious lies as much anymore.

Anonymous Coward says:

Oh Nuts!

Nuts is the current one for “bought stuff good home made stuff BAD”. Try taking a home made cake into a school (in England at least) and see the reaction “Oh I’m sorry, we can’t be sure what’s in it… some children are allergic to nuts and we need a list of ingredients”
Ironic really when almost every bought cake in the universe will say at the very least “This product was made in a facvtory that uses nuts and may contain trace nuts” because of hte paranioa of being sued. I know nut allergies aren’t funny… but the hype is kinda.
My fave found on a packet of peanuts: “WARNING: This product may contain nuts”. I’d damn well hope so!

Wolfy says:

@#4:

There was a time when the “mainstream media” was a true watchdog over government. When the crooks in power in government (mostly republicans) got fed up with all the attention they were getting from said media, they complained of a “left wing bias” in the reporting. They then got with their banker pals and set up their own network to give their own “perspective” on their version of “news”. That new network is called fox.

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

Re: Re:

way to toe the partisan line there.

there was a time when mainstream media actually reported on important stuff and some pop star shaving her head would never have made it into the news.

perhaps we should all back away from the partisan finger pointing and actually start holding people accountable instead?

yeah, i know…. im just a wacko bent on the destruction of everything nice….

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

Ok, this blows

Why do I now feel like a huge portion of my childhood has been tampered with for no good reason. I remember hearing those stories and thinking they were quite true.

This actually is another feather in the cap for TechDirt. It just reinforces all the stories about “real” journalists vs alternative media. If only those “real” journallists had access to Snopes.com back then, we could have enjoyed a better class of treats on All Hallows Eve.

Thamios says:

I’ve gotta call BS on this, actually. I can remember multiple news reports of arrests because people slipped razor blades/pins/thumbtacks/whatever into candy during halloween when i was a kid. Anyone who says it doesn’t happen is full of it.

The best part, though, it usually happened with brand name candy, not local brands. Have you ever tried to open one end of a candy wrapper and put it back together? Yeah. It’s easy with a little bit of patience, and you can’t tell the difference usually.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So…in an article about over-hyped warnings that aren’t fact-checked by the media reporting on the issues…your counter-evidence is said over-hyped warnings?

That’s just brilliant.

“People on the internet are unreliable.”
“That’s bullshit! People on the internet tell me they’re reliable all the time!”

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I remember (barely) all the reports and reports of arrests usually in land far far away like Vancouver. (I was born on Vancouver Island)

What I don’t remember is any convictions.

For some reason, probably snarkiness at my instructor of 20th Century History, I decided to do a quick paper on this and dove headlong into the Law library at UBC. Guess what I found?

Almost all those arrests in Canada and the United States were on “suspicion” of adulterating the treats and I the only charges I found were against nuclear family members or one step away and even then just a slight scattering of convictions.

(Remember, in the 40s, 50s and 60s no one talked about this because the “Leave It To Beaver” household was worshiped and none of these things ever really happened unless the parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or grandparent was a serious nutbar. Perhaps not even then.)

I got a big fat F on that paper and when I appealed it the instructor hadn’t checked my bibliography, footnotes and citations she just didn’t believe me cause it HAD to be true. I got a 75% later cause of my horrendous spelling when I typed it up at 3:30am.

tracker1 (profile) says:

It does happen.. rarely though...

My dad was a police officer while I was growing up, mostly undercover… My mom was a police dispatcher… There was a single year I wasn’t allowed to go trick-or-treating when I was about 8… it’s because the police had caught someone poisoning a candy shipment… though this says nothing to the home or local made candy… just an interesting tidbit that there are insane people out there… just the same I’d rather not have to resort to pliers to get into my bottle of milk.

Andrew (profile) says:

Re: It does happen.. rarely though...

A candy shipment. Poisoning a candy shipment. I don’t know, somehow I suspect that if someone had been caught attempting to injure or kill hundreds of people (assuming a “shipment” is more than a sack of wrapped candy) that it might have made wider news than at the police station water fountain. So, was it in the paper, do you know? Where as this?

Another anecdote without any actual evidence. I don’t doubt that you may have been told that, but that is the very definition of anecdotal, like 99.99% of all these stories.

NullOp says:

Candy

I grew up when Halloween was a “religious experience” waited for all year. The neighborhoods were literally awash in kids! Groups of 25 or more were not uncommon. They crossed the streets like Fall leaves blown by strong winds. The worst thing I ever ran into personally was a man that had heated pennies in the over then offered them to the kids on a tray. Big funny! I suspect he got more tricks than he expected. The story of adults harming kids came later. It brought a good amount of anxiety to parents and eventually led, in part, to today’s Halloween Anxiety Syndrome or HAS. I am glad to know that, at least in some places, Halloween is still a very big deal and a great deal of fun for the kids. However, with today’s manipulative methods used by all companies Halloween has joined the ranks of engineered holidays much like Christmas.

dave says:

is the low rate of injury actually, verifiably due to the fact that there are very few tamper incidents, or is it due to the fact that the public has taken to shunning non-store bought candy?

we all know that “correlation does not equal causation” so i’m just bringing this up because there’s no real proof offered either way and this seems like it’s being presented as “told-you-so” fact.

dave says:

Re: Re: Re:

ya, some sort of rate could be possible. could be a case of even once is too much, but nothing we see here justifies that call either way.

it’s not beyond belief that the evil corporations could pull strings to get the news to blow up a single incident or two way out of proportion. that would cause the people to stop eating non-major-manufacturer candy, so from then on there’d be no way to compare the rate of tampering would be greater or less with home made vs store bought.

Desco (profile) says:

Popcorn

We handed out fresh popcorn out of a popcorn machine this weekend. Granted, we run a home haunt, so people KNOW where they got it from, but it was interesting to see the reaction as people were handed fresh food. (The haunt was themed after classic horror movies, so the popcorn–especially the smell of it–was very appropriate.) At first, the old FUD came welling to the surface with looks of shock, horror, disgust, and sometimes a polite “no thanks”, but then they thought for a second and took it anyway.

Want to reverse this? If you want to distribute something homemade, include your name and address. Maybe email. People will feel a lot better if they can trace the source. Even if it’s fake. (j/k)

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