Oct 23, 2023 - Culture

The rise of (unnecessary) Halloween candy X-rays

A 1985 news article promotes hospital X-rays of Halloween candy
Davis County Clipper, Oct. 22, 1985

This is Old News, a weekly feature where we knock on history's door to see how many razor blades were actually hiding in the apples.

Halloween is a time for monster myths — and few have taken hold like the notion that trick-or-treaters are likely to be killed by their neighbors.

Flashback: Halloween fears around tainted treats in Utah go back to the 1970s, when the state Safety Council tried to ban trick-or-treating, claiming "a number of instances" where kids received "apples embedded with razor blades or candy which was impregnated with drugs."

Hospitals across the nation began offering free X-rays for kids' treats in the hope of spotting razor blades, needles and pins before they could be eaten.

  • News reports show hospitals from St. George to Logan offered the service.

By the numbers: Ashley Valley Medical Center in Vernal scanned 30 bags of candy on Halloween in 1982, the Vernal Express reported. No foreign objects were detected.

  • Medical studies found other radiology departments also came up empty. A 1988 report estimated hospitals were spending up to $1.4 million nationwide to screen candy.

Reality check: Joel Best, a University of Delaware sociology professor who specializes in urban legends and has studied "Halloween sadism" reports for decades, hasn't found a single substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by contaminated food they got trick-or-treating.

  • Most tainted candy reports turned out to be family violence or hoaxes.

Yes, but: Police in Ohio received reports of needles found in two pieces of candy in 2021, leading to a revival of candy X-rays there.

Of note: X-rays don't detect poison — and in one study, an X-ray didn't even capture a needle during a safety check.

The other side: While candy sabotage is rare, traffic deaths spike on Halloween.

  • So go ahead and gorge yourself on candy, but mind the roads.

Previously in Old News:


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