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Safely decorating with pumpkins

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Decorating pumpkins can be a fun way for families to celebrate fall or usher in the Halloween spirit, especially as long as everyone makes safety a priority.

Of course, pumpkins can be dressed up lots of different ways, including carving funny or frightening faces and patterns into them.

No matter how simple the face or pattern, 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,” she said. “They also can participate during the carving process by cleaning the pulp and seeds from the center.”

Meanwhile, pumpkin carving kits, which generally include a variety of special tools designed to make carving easier, can be purchased. As an alternative, families can use one or more sharp knives of different sizes to cut off the top and create the pattern.

Then, remove seeds and strings with a sturdy metal spoon.

Sometimes families like to add a light source to a carved pumpkin, and in that case, flashlights, battery-operated flameless candles and glow sticks are excellent options.

Before using real candles, make sure the pumpkin is resting on a sturdy surface located away from flammable items such as curtains, furniture and other decorations.

At the end of the season, there always is a question of what to do with decorated pumpkins.

“The meat of a carved pumpkin is not safe to eat after it has been left at room temperature for several hours or days. But, the seeds can be roasted or dried,” Brown said.

For guidance on how to roast or dry pumpkin seeds, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation website at

Carved pumpkins can be composted, rather than tossed in the trash, at the end of the season as long as they have not been decorated with non-biodegradable materials that cannot be easily removed, said David Hillock, OSU Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturalist.

“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.”

Another option for families is to break up and scatter the pumpkin 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 nearest county OSU Extension office.

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