Food choking hazards and children:

What parents need to know:
Even nutritious items have shapes and textures that spell danger

Parents have heard it before, but it bears repeating: Food is the No. 1 choking hazard among children.Children of all ages are susceptible to choking, but kids younger than 5 are especially vulnerable because they have fewer (and smaller) molars, weaker chewing ability, and narrower airways than older children and adults. Most dangerous of all, they’re prone to putting things in their mouths–unlike older children. (Coins and balloons can also make children choke. )

Top food choking hazards are candy and gum, which have sent thousands of children to emergency rooms in recent years. But foods of all shapes and textures–including some of the healthiest fruits and vegetables–present hazards. See Choking first aid for infants up to 1 year and Choking first aid for children 1 year and older.

Choking occurs when food (or any object) becomes caught in the throat and blocks air from getting to the lungs–and oxygen from getting to the brain. Food pieces that are too large can simply block off the airway. But even a small item, such as a peanut, can put more of a young child’s respiratory system in jeopardy, since a child’s airway tends to be narrower. A blockage down low can cause part of a lung to collapse, and because that portion of the lung is unable to clear secretions, infections such as pneumonia can develop behind the blockage. While choking in children causes 100 times more injuries than it does deaths, parents should remember that some injuries can lead to permanent brain damage.


Here are some foods to watch out for:

Rounded, small, or slippery foods. They can slip right down the throat and lodge at a narrowed spot. Such foods include baby carrots, grapes, and raisins.

Firm, but pliable, foods. Items like hot dogs, sausages, and frozen banana pieces can conform to the shape of the throat and lodge there.

Light, dry foods. Snacks such as popcorn, tortilla chips, potato chips, and pretzels can get stuck in the throat, as can hard produce (including those with tough or dry skins), such as raw apples and carrots.

Chewy, sticky foods. These might not be manageable for very young children. They include caramels, gum, gummy bears, fruit “leather” (such as Roll-Ups), dollops of peanut butter, and cheese slices or cubes.

Stringy foods, like celery or spaghetti, may also be hard for little ones to manage.

If a food is tough to chew, like steak or bagels, children might try to swallow pieces whole–an obvious hazard. Steak, chicken, or other meats with bones are also hazardous.

Some medications, including those for teething pain, can numb the mouth and throat muscles, so talk to your child’s pediatrician about the safest way to feed your child.


These easy steps can help prevent choking:

  • Don’t put cereal in a baby’s bottle.
  • Place children upright in a comfortable high chair or booster seat with a table surface that provides support.
  • Keep portions small. Give your child more if he or she wants it. For spoon-fed babies, wait until the mouth is clear before giving the child more food.
  • For children ages 4 or younger, make sure solid food is cut into pieces smaller than half an inch. Round foods like hot dogs and grapes should be cut in half.
  • Cook foods such as pasta, rice, beans, and hard vegetables until soft.
  • Avoid feeding small foods like nuts to young children. They have few (if any) molars to grind them, and could choke if they unexpectedly laugh or take a deep breath and inhale them.
  • Watch for “chipmunking”–when a child fills his cheeks with food and doesn’t swallow it.
  • Keep older children from handing easy-to-choke-on foods or small objects to younger children.
  • Limit distractions during meal time, such as TV, pets, and game-playing, so children can focus on their food.
  • Never leave a child alone while eating.
  • Don’t feed a child in a car or bus. It will be hard for a driver to pull to the side of the road fast enough to help a choking child.

Ideally, parents and caregivers should learn how to properly respond to a choking child before an incident occurs. See these American Red Cross tips for the relief of choking in children. You can also find a CPR training class near you.

For handy reference, read and print out these diagrams in case of an emergency: Choking first aid for infants up to 1 year and choking first aid for children 1 year and older.

For more information, see Consumer Reports‘ free articles on preventing food poisoning in children and 8 products not to buy for kids.

1 Comment »

  Elenore Syon wrote @ March 18th, 2012 at 9:21 am

I believe that avoiding prepared foods would be the first step for you to lose weight. They can taste very good, but highly processed foods currently have very little vitamins and minerals, making you take more only to have enough power to get over the day. Should you be constantly feeding on these foods, transitioning to cereals and other complex carbohydrates will let you have more power while ingesting less. Good blog post.

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