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Screening of Treats : X-Rays Just One Step to a Safe Halloween

Times Staff Writer

Parents of trick-or-treaters are urged to rely on their own judgment and not solely on hospital X-ray screenings tonight to determine if someone has tampered with their children’s Halloween treats.

While many hospitals are offering free X-ray screening of candy as a community service, the director of the San Diego Poison Control Center said parents should be aware that this type of screening only determines if metallic substances have been inserted into the candy and not if it has been poisoned.

“We want people to do their own checking rather than rely on X-rays to weed out every possible problem,” center director Dr. Anthony Manoguerra said. “We don’t want parents to be lulled into this false sense of security, that ‘if nothing turns up on the X-ray then of course it’s OK to eat.’

“We are telling parents to tell their children to not eat anything until they get home, to not eat unwrapped treats unless they have been obtained from relatives or very close friends. Also, parents should inspect treats to see if there is a hole in the wrapper and it looks like something has been inserted, or if it looks like the treat has been unwrapped and then rewrapped.”

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Manoguerra said that, in the nine years he has worked at the poison center, he has not heard of a Halloween candy tampering case in the San Diego area.

“I’ve heard of metallic objects being inserted in treats in other parts of the country, but never in this area, and we’ve never had anyone come in here to be treated for poisoning from a Halloween treat,” Manoguerra said. “Maybe this can be attributed to parents being careful and doing their own screening.”

Children’s Hospital spokeswoman Terry Merryman said the hospital decided not to screen candy this year because it was a better use of their time and resources to go to area schools and educate children on Halloween-night safety.

“We’ve screened candy for the past two years, but we found the number of families coming in had decreased by half,” Merryman said. “Instead, some of our nurses have gone around to area schools and given presentations on how they can enjoy a safe Halloween.”

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Merryman said safety tips to the children included wearing light-colored, reflective clothing, being careful when crossing the street, making sure their parents know what route they are taking, refusing to enter a stranger’s house for any reason and not carrying candles or anything else lit by fire.

“We are not just urging children to have a safe Halloween, but are urging parents to help in making it a healthy one as well,” Merryman said. “We are suggesting alternatives to the typical candy treat, such as dried fruits or packaged raisins. If they do choose the traditional treats, they should not let their children eat it all up in one night, but instead ration it out for a week, a month, even freeze it and make it last the year.”

Hospitals offering the free X-ray screening include Alvarado, Fallbrook, Grossmont, Hillside, Scripps Clinics, Paradise Valley, Palomar Memorial, Ramona Radiology Center, Pomerado and the Sharp clinics.

The radiology supervisor at Pomerado Hospital said his hospital offers the X-ray screening as part of a community service to ensure the health and well-being of all children celebrating Halloween, and informs all of those who participate in the screening that the X-ray cannot detect poisons.

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“We started providing the service in 1984 because of the pins and needles found in Girl Scout cookies earlier that year,” radiology supervisor Bob Hamilton said. “The Halloween program has been very successful the last two years, so we decided to offer it again.”


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