10/03/2011 04:34 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2011

Chemical Candy and the Emergency Room

Who would think an innocent little Root Beer Barrel candy would send a grown man to the emergency room? What you should know before your send your kids trick or treating.

On a quiet evening mid week, I get a call from my husband that I need to pick him up right away. As calmly as he can, he tells me he thinks he's having an allergic reaction, to come quickly. Immediately, it sparked a scary memory of a call I got from his brother from their trip to Florida a few years back. I recalled the speed at which anaphylaxis shock can set in and knew it is quickly life threatening.

Four years ago, his first allergic anaphylactic episode was caused by instant oatmeal he consumed at breakfast. Yes that's correct, oatmeal. The good news is it led us to discover his allergy to gluten and wheat, which was the culprit of a 5-year severe battle of head to toe eczema. It was so bad he had been on immune suppressants (Cyclosporine) for 3.5 years and steroids following that. After a year off anything gluten, his skin recovered completely; he's been doing triathlons and averaging 50 miles on his road bike ever since those days.

Over the years since that episode, he has had other minor reactions to food he no longer eats, such as raw shellfish and peanuts.

So when I got the call from him last week at the gym, I knew it was bad. Leaving out all the details of the speedy pick up and trip to the emergency room where he was treated and released 3 hours later, the question remained, what caused this reaction?

It all started from a Root Beer Barrel candy he was given from a man at his gym he fondly calls, The Candy Man. My husband did not even enjoy the few seconds he had it in his mouth and spit it out. Those few seconds are what set him off on his allergic reaction that landed him in the hospital emergency room.

Thankfully, The Candy Man was able to give him the same candy a week later, so we could investigate the ingredients. We knew it came from a jumbo bag of candy from Costco. Our friends, who are naturally inquisitive, shop there, so we put them on a mission to discover the ingredients of this little barrel candy. What they uncovered made their 10-year-old daughter say she will never have any candy ever again unless it's organic and fruit juice sweetened.

Root Beer Barrels:
Corn Syrup
Artificial Flavor
FD&C Red #40
Yellow #5
Blue #1
Yellow #6

Allergy info: Contains Milk, Soybeans, Walnuts and Peanuts.
This product is packaged on equipment that also packages products that contain wheat and eggs.

What I can say is that each ingredient is made from items like corn, that may be genetically engineered or modified and other resources that are not part of any food group, such as petroleum and coal tar. They all have similar health warnings:

Possible Health Effects:
  • Known to cause hyperactivity in children.
  • Some animal studies indicate that chemicals used in the preparation of this colorant are carcinogenic and may cause cancer.
  • Developmental, reproductive and general organ toxicity have also been noted in animal studies.
  • Caution advised to those with aspirin sensitivities as reactions can occur. Other effects include: asthma, hives, headache, skin rash.
  • Animal studies indicate that it can cause tumors and be carcinogenic to certain organs.

Allergy Information
May cause allergic reaction in sensitive individuals

If you want to know more, read on:

I myself grew up in the generation where we ate whatever we wanted -- allergies were scarce and companies were not modifying ingredients for financial gain. Our world is different now. Before you let your kids or yourself indulge at Halloween and the few days of candy overflow that follow, please beware of what your candy of choice is made from. Remember that the innocent looking little Root Beer Barrel candy sent my 6'3", 195 lb husband to the emergency room and please think twice.