Adulterated Halloween Candy

For as long as I can remember, parents have worried about adulterated Halloween candy, razorblades in apples, and the like. This concern is exaggerated, but not totally unfounded. Snopes states here that researchers have identified about 80 cases of sharp objects, usually pins, reportedly being inserted in fruit or candy distributed at Halloween. Although most of the reports turned out to be hoaxes and many of the rest were one child playing a “prank” on another, such as a sibling, about 10 cases did result in minor injuries. Snopes further reports here that random Halloween poisonings are entirely urban legend, with not a single documented case. This report summarizes that “no child has ever been seriously injured or killed as a result of ingesting adulterated candy, apples, or other treats collected door-to-door on Halloween.”

Of course, the lack of much historical precedent doesn’t mean that some crackpot won’t take it on himself to tamper with Halloween goodies. If he does, though, he will likely run afoul of G.S. 14-401.11, captioned “Distribution of certain food at Halloween and all other times prohibited.” The statute basically prohibits the distribution of any “food or eatable substance” that contains a “noxious or deleterious substance,” a controlled substance, or foreign items such as “razor blades, pins, and ground glass.” Depending on the specific adulterant that’s used, the offense is a Class C, F, H, or I felony. As an aside, I’m pretty sure that a few of the treats I consumed at the State Fair two weeks ago were “eatable substances” (whether they were actually “food” is debatable) and that they contained lots of things that were “deleterious” at best and more likely “noxious.” Of course, regulating deep-fried Oreos is not the purpose of the statute.

Finally, I will note that even in the absence of adulterated Halloween candy, the statute has been used several times in recent years. In Chatham County, it was used to charge a student who spit into, and poured a foreign substance into, a teacher’s drink. (Thanks to a helpful reader for pointing this case out.) And a couple of years ago, it was used to prosecute two Domino’s employees who, as the New York Times reported, videotaped themselves placing nasal mucus on sandwiches and engaging in other repulsive conduct. Which may make “Domino’s employee” the scariest Halloween costume going.

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