Households across the U.S. this Halloween are displaying hand-painted teal-colored pumpkins on their porches and lawns, a signal that children with food allergies can safely trick-or-treat there.

The Teal Pumpkin Project, being promoted as a new tradition by Virginia-based nonprofit Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), aims to help raise awareness about food allergies by providing non-food treats for trick-or-treaters.

"Halloween can be a tricky time – quite literally – for families managing food allergies because many traditional Halloween treats aren’t safe for children with life-threatening food allergies," the organizers said in a statement sent to Reuters Health. The idea originated last year with the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET) – this marks the first year of nationwide promotion with FARE.

Teal, a dark blue-green, is the long-established color of food allergy awareness. Parents can visit the FARE website to download and print fliers and learn about common allergens (www.foodallergy.org).

"Food allergies can be life-threatening, and they affect one in 13 children in the U.S. Chances are, there's a child in every neighborhood managing food allergies," Veronica LaFemina, vice president of communications with FARE, told Reuters Health. "Children managing other diseases in which candy represents a problem – like diabetes and celiac disease – also benefit."

Popular non-food treats include glow sticks and bracelets, stickers, plastic vampire fangs, whistles and Halloween-themed erasers and pencils. Many participating households will still offer candy to children not allergic to the ingredients.

The effort has been heavily promoted via social networking services. Some local communities have set up Facebook groups so parents can find participating homes.

Jill Mindlin, mother of a 13-year-old girl severely allergic to dairy, eggs and tree nuts, said some people have mistaken the initiative as "anti-candy."

"None of us are trying to take candy out of Halloween. In fact, I'm giving out candy to children without food allergies. We're just offering an alternative, a supplement so our kids can participate, too," the Long Island, New York resident told Reuters Health. "This is just a really nice way for kids to trick-or-treat and raise awareness."

Nearly six million children in the U.S. manage food allergies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Lynda Mitchell, vice president of D.C.-based Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), Kids With Food Allergies Division, believes the Teal Pumpkin Project resonates with many families because of its emphasis on inclusive holiday fun.

"I think the nation is becoming more sensitive, more inclusive, to children managing food allergies,” Mitchell told Reuters Health.

Carrie Curry, who lives in Delaware and blogs at chockababy.com, has three children, including one with food allergies. On her blog, she wrote, “My daughter gets to paint her pumpkin teal and wear a badge of honor that she has food allergies and her family wants to support all kids on Halloween. It’s not often that she can be happy about food allergies . . . When others ask about the pumpkin or the sign we’ll hang on our door explaining it, we can talk about food allergies. We can show neighbors and friends that we may have an allergy in our house but we can still have fun with the holiday. And we can (hopefully) remind people that allergies are a big deal.”

Participating households can paint pumpkins with spray paints from craft supply stores, LaFemina added, because most grocery stores do not sell pre-painted pumpkins.

Whole Foods Market supports the project and its mission, even though teal pumpkins are not sold at its stores, a spokesperson told Reuters Health.

“When it comes to selling pre-painted teal pumpkins, our stores operate independently to meet the needs of their communities, so we encourage local Teal Pumpkin Projects to connect with their neighborhood Whole Foods Market to see what's possible,” the spokesperson added.