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Food safety expert: How long is your kids’ Halloween candy safe to eat?

Crystal Graham
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When children return from trick or treating tonight, they will likely be ready to sit down and gobble up as much of the treats from their candy tub as their parents will allow them before going to bed full of sugar. However, many parents might look to spread the candy consumption out for some time.

A Virginia Tech assistant professor of food processing microbiology has some tips and tricks for keeping all those bite-sized treats safe to eat.

“Being aware of how to safely consume or store your Halloween goodies can help ensure your holiday is all treats and no tricks,” said Alexis Hamilton, an assistant professor of food processing microbiology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Food Science and Technology. “Most of the commercial candy products you’ll see handed out this year are safe to consume and store for several months after trick-or-treating, but homemade candies and treats require a little extra scrutiny. These treats typically won’t last as long as your store-bought favorites.”

Some candies may last for up to two years at room temperature. Homemade Halloween sweets, though, are best enjoyed shortly after concocted in the kitchen, such as caramel- or candy-coated apples, crispy rice treats, fudge, and more, Hamilton said.

Safety recommendations

  • Chocolate: All chocolate is made of cocoa butter and/or cocoa powder, and the fats in chocolate normally oxidize over time when exposed to oxygen, causing it to become stale or causing off-odors and flavors. The higher the cocoa content, the longer the product will last, so dark chocolate has a much longer quality shelf life than white chocolate. Dark chocolate can be kept for one to two years if wrapped in foil and stored in a cool, dark and dry place, such as a pantry or basement. Milk and white chocolate have a more limited storage time — no more than 8-10 months.
  • Hard candy: Hard candies can last up to a year when stored at room temperature or in a cool, dry location.
  • Jellied candies: If the packaging has been opened, soft candies should be stored away from heat and light at room temperature of about 70 degrees. Stored in this manner, the candy should last 6-9 months. If the packaging has not been opened, soft sweets will last approximately 12 months.
  • Candy corn: If the packaging has been opened, candy corn should be stored under the same conditions as soft candies and will last approximately 3-6 months. Unopened packages will last about 9 months.
  • Gum: As long as the packaging remains sealed, most gum products have a shelf life of 6-9 months. To maximize freshness, keep chewing gum packages in a cool, dry place and out of any direct sunlight.
  • Caramel: Caramel treats should be kept covered, away from heat and light at room temperature. Stored properly, caramel should last 6-9 months and even up to 12 months in some cases.

Hamilton said that partially eaten or opened candies should be stored in containers that protect the candy from contamination, whether in plastic storage bags or airtight containers, in order to increase its shelf life.

How to tell if items have gone bad

  • Off-odors or off-flavors.
  • If something fuzzy is growing, don’t eat it.
  • If a sealed package looks bloated, don’t eat it. The bloating likely means something is growing inside, especially if the package is pressed on and the bloating returns.
  • A recommendation as old as Dracula himself is when in doubt, throw it out.
  • If candy is left out to melt and stored in the fridge to resolidify, it is still generally safe to eat even if it looks like Frankenstein.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.