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Candy tampering fears unfounded

| Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007

In his years as an Allegheny General Hospital radiologist, Dr. Kamyar Ilkhanipour has seen strange things in kids' X-rays -- including coins that have found their way down throats.

But despite the warnings we hear every Halloween about the risk of kids eating candy filled with razor blades, needles and pins, Ilkhanipour has yet to encounter victims of sabotaged treats.

"I have to say I've been hearing about Halloween candy tampering since I was small, but I've yet to hear of anyone in the hospital discovering it," he said.

Documented cases of kids ingesting unsafe Halloween treats tend to be harder to pin down than a billowy, white ghost in a "Casper" cartoon.

West Penn Hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Wade said the hospital has not conducted candy screenings for 20 years because there is no need to power up the X-ray machines every Oct. 31.

Over at Mercy Hospital, emergency room physician Dr. Kaveh Ilkhanipour -- Kamyar Ilkhanipour's brother -- said he has never seen a child brought in suffering from tainted candy bars or apples.

After hours of searching the Internet for evidence of candy tampering, the closest I came to uncovering an incidence of this perennial Halloween fright was an academic study refuting its existence.

According to an exhaustive, 30-year study of candy tampering undertaken by University of Southern Illinois professor Joel Best, the practice turns out to be just another one of those scary fables that swirl around the last days of October like so much morning fog.

In the two nationally reported cases of candy tampering that Best found, one involved a kid whose parents claimed he'd died after being given heroin-spiked candy. Police later discovered the child actually became sick after eating some of his father's heroin stash.

So why, each year, do local TV news outlets bristle with stories warning parents that potentially deadly sweets could be lurking in the bottoms of their treat bags and some local hospitals offer free X-ray screenings for candy?

I guess it's because we enjoy scaring ourselves, particularly at Halloween, a time when tall tales are part of the holiday tradition.

There were several national product tampering incidents during the 1980s, which helped perpetuate the candy tampering scare for generations to come. To be safe, Allegheny General's Dr. Kamyar Ilkhanipour reminded parents to "carefully check every piece of candy their kids bring home."

An even better way exists to ensure that your kids don't bring home any bad treats. Only take them trick-or-treating at the homes of neighbors that you know personally, which virtually eliminates the chance of running into strange treats.

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