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Safely decorating with pumpkins

Friday, October 28, 2016

For those who like to celebrate fall or get into the Halloween spirit, decorating pumpkins can be a fun family activity as long as everyone is participating in a safe way.

While pumpkins can be dressed up lots of different ways, one of the most popular options is to carve funny or frightening faces and patterns into them.

“All carving should be done by an adult,” said Barbara Brown, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension food safety specialist. “Younger children can draw patterns with markers, glitter, paint and other art supplies. They also can participate during the carving process by cleaning the pulp and seeds from the center.”

Pumpkin carving kits, which generally include a variety of special tools designed to make carving easier, can be purchased. But one or more sharp knives of different sizes also can be used to cut off the top and create the pattern.

Seeds and strings can be removed using a sturdy metal spoon.

“Flashlights, battery-operated flameless candles and glow sticks are great options if you want to add a light source to your carved pumpkin,” Brown said. “If you chose to use real candles, the pumpkin should rest on a sturdy surface away from flammable items such as curtains, furniture and other decorations.”

After a carved pumpkin has been left at room temperature for several hours or days, the meat is not safe to eat. Seeds can be roasted or dried, though, and for guidance on that process, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at

At the end of the season, carved pumpkins can be composted, rather than tossed in the trash, as long as they are not decorated with non-biodegradable materials that cannot be easily removed, said David Hillock, OSU Cooperative Extension assistant specialist, consumer horticulture.

“I don’t know that glue, glitter, markers and water-based paints would be terribly harmful to a compost pile. If the composting process is done properly most of those would probably degrade and be in such small amounts it would not be a problem,” Hillock said. “If the non-biodegradable materials can easily be removed from the pumpkin then those materials can be thrown away and the pumpkin can still be composted.”

Pumpkins also can be broken up and scattered in a garden space or landscape bed to allow for decomposition and return of organic matter to the soil. Cutting or breaking it up into smaller pieces will help with and speed up the decomposition process.

For more information on safely handling pumpkins during the fall and Halloween celebrations, contact the local Extension office.

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