Candy quarantine: What to do with Halloween trick-or-treat sweets

TORONTO — While there has been much talk about wearing masks, physically distancing, and the proper ways to hand out candy this Halloween, there has been less guidance on what to do with the treats once they’ve been collected.

Should parents sanitize each wrapper before their child digs in? Should they put the candy in quarantine for 24 hours? 48 hours? Should they wear gloves while rummaging through the haul?

For those families that will be participating in the annual trick-or-treating tradition – public health guidance on the event varies across the country and Canadians should follow regional recommendations – they may be seeking answers on what to do with their Halloween haul.

CTV News Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said the risk of transmission of coronavirus from surfaces such as groceries or candy wrappers is very low.

“There’s next to no evidence that what we call fomites, which are objects [and] surfaces, provide a reasonably worrisome form of contamination that is likely to be transmitters of COVID-19,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview on Thursday.

“There’s just absolutely no evidence based on any outbreak situation that has identified that as being a problem.” 

Sharkawy said he understands that people may be concerned about surfaces and objects because SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, can live on surfaces; however, he said transmission of the disease is unlikely to occur through those means.

“For someone to acquire COVID-19 from a candy wrapper or from a surface would require actually a great deal of effort,” he explained. “It would require someone literally making a lot of contact with that surface repeatedly and, literally, within the same timeframe, very indiscriminately, and repeatedly, touching their eyes, their face and their nose.”

While Sharkawy said families don’t need to wipe down or sanitize every candy wrapper when they return home from trick-or-treating, he said there’s no harm in doing so if it gives them peace of mind.

“For some people, the degree of anxiety that’s brought on from not doing it is enough that it’s OK,” he said. “But know that you don’t have to do it. Know that this is not something that any health expert, especially an infectious disease expert, would say you should do.”

In addition to not having to clean every single candy wrapper, Sharkawy said parents shouldn’t feel like they have to keep the treats away from their children and put them in quarantine for a period of time before they’re safe to touch.

Instead, Sharkawy emphasized that the focus should be on handwashing.

“The simple, common sense rule should be trying to make sure you have clean hands as often as possible,” he said. “There are a lot of other viruses, especially cold and other respiratory viruses, that can easily be shared when you are about to consume food or after consuming food.”

DR. SHARKAWY’S OTHER SAFE TRICK-OR-TREATING TIPS

  • Wear a proper face mask; a costume mask is not enough.
  • Do not enter anybody else’s home.
  • Go with a small group, ideally just members of the same household.
  • Don’t stall or congregate with others on the sidewalks.
  • Reduce the time spent trick-or-treating.
  • Avoid communal bowls of candy.
  • Stay outdoors. 

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