Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

Why X-raying candy is a useless and utter waste of time and money

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, October 28, 2012

Once again, it’s Halloween.

And, once again, hospitals across the nation will engage in a costly and highly-misguided effort of X-raying candy under the pretense that by so doing, somehow it increases, or adds a level of safety or security for children.

Frankly, the whole idea is faulty to the core, and is based upon a long-standing urban myth.

Those of a certain age may recall the cry of “razor blade in apples” which was supposed to justify X-raying candy.

Then, there was the fear mongering tactic of “dirty needles in candy” to justify X-raying candy.

Now, who knows what else there will be?

Even the most casual observer could plainly see that a razor blade inserted into an apple leaves a very noticeable mark, or bruise upon the fruit. Even if the apple was candied, the bruise would be noticeable. A covering of caramel, however, might hide such a mark. But then again, how many caramel apples are given out at Halloween by the average household? I’d say the chances of that happening are 1.) Slim, and 2.) None.

Here’s more food for thought (pun intended).

Poisons are not radiopaque.

That is, they do NOT show up on X-ray.

Poisons can be injected into still-wrapped candy, which would go undetected by even the most cautious observer.

And yet, Law Enforcement Officers and hospitals nation-wide will, once again, embark upon a well-intended, but seriously misguided notion to X-ray candy for hundreds of thousands of parents.

Not only is that foolish, it is EXPENSIVE to the hospitals, and a waste of precious resources in these difficult fiscal times.

Interestingly, there are others who have had similar thoughts… even as far back as 1988.

Healthcare professionals, hospital administrators and their staff should embark upon a public/community education effort to teach the public that X-raying candy is useless, and a costly endeavor that cannot protect anyone from those whose intent is upon harming children, or others by poisoning candy.

Suitable, safe and sane alternatives to wide-spread trick-or-treat expeditions could include attending festivals at one’s place of worship, or local community center, or limiting such house calls to those whom are known to the participants. Bobbing for apples, games, prizes and group participation for children and adults could be a wonderful opportunity to increase a sense of community awareness, and strengthen friendships for everyone.

The well-intentioned program of X-raying Halloween candy is costly. The annual expense to the 3 local hospitals in the Reno/Sparks area was $1625.62. The price to X-ray each bag ranged from $2.01 to $5.23 (average $3.38). On the basis of our total regional population statistics, the nation could be spending as much as $0.8-$1.4 million to screen Halloween candy. Radiographic screening of Halloween candy is not effective. Of the 394 X-rays taken in the 3 local hospitals, and the 669 taken in 18 outlying hospitals, no films were positive for hidden radio-opaque forein bodies. Not only is X-raying Halloween candy costly and ineffective, it also creates several problems. Children taking their candy to the hospital on Halloween night risk involvement in traffic accidents. The implication that X-rayed candy is “safe” carries potential liability. Additional drawbacks and risks arise from crowds composed mostly of children in the Radiology Dept and Emergency Room, and from disruption of vital hospital functions. In October, 1986, a program for community education and cooperation among all 3 area hospitals was developed. No X-rays were offered in the Reno/Sparks area. There were no police reports of contaminated candy for this Halloween following implementation of this program, compared to 4 reports for the preceding 2 years.

Vet Hum Toxicol. 1988 Apr;30(2):165-9.

Should we X-ray Halloween candy? Revisited.


Department of Emergency Medicine, Washoe Medical Center, Reno, NV.


Ann Emerg Med. 1993 Oct;22(10):1541-4.

Routine screening of Halloween candy: helpful or hazardous?


Department of Pediatrics, University of Louisville, Kentucky.



To determine the frequency of radiopaque items found in radiologic screening of Halloween candy and to determine the possibility of missing a small item.


Prospective observational study on Halloween night, 1992. Data were collected from area medical centers that were screening Halloween candy. The ability to detect small sharp items was tested at five centers.


Five hospitals and three immediate care centers.


Four hundred fifty-four bags of candy were screened.


No unknown radiopaque items were discovered. One of five centers tested for accuracy failed to detect a small radiopaque item. Only one hospital required parents to sign a waiver of liability. The immediate care centers recorded patients’ names; the other hospitals kept no record of the names of children whose bags were screened. No physicians viewed the radiographs or fluoroscopy.


The routine radiologic screening of Halloween candy has an extremely low yield in detecting radiopaque items.


J Nutr Educ Behav. 2003 Jul-Aug;35(4):207-9.

Trick, treat, or toy: children are just as likely to choose toys as candy on halloween.


Department of Psychology, Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA. marlene.schwartz@yale.edu


This study investigated whether children would choose toys over candy when offered both on Halloween. Seven households gave trick-or-treaters a choice between comparably sized toys and candies. The subjects (N = 284) were between 3 and 14 years of age. Children were just as likely to choose toys as candy. There were no gender differences. The implication of this study is that children will not be disappointed by toy treats on Halloween. In practice, nutrition professionals should encourage adults to create holiday traditions that do not rely on unhealthful foods.


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