Keeping young children safe from choking

Preventing young children from choking requires these precautions for mealtime safety.

Reports from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) state that “over 50 percent of choking occurrences happen due to food. Parents and caregivers should know that choking is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children, especially those who are 3 years of age or younger.”

Michigan State University Extension, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the AAP offer some precautionary advice to prevent choking risks.

Parents and caregivers should be aware of foods that can cause choking. High risk foods include hard candy, peanuts/nuts, seeds, whole grapes, chunks of peanut butter, popcorn, caramels, gum drops, gummy candies, gooey/sticky candy, hot dogs and any food that is round and could conform to a child’s airway.

Steps to assist parents and caregivers to potentially minimize choking hazards:
  • Foods should be cooked until soft and can be sliced with a fork
  • Cut soft, round foods, like hot dogs or string cheese, into short strips rather than round pieces
  • Bones must be removed from fish, chicken and meat
  • Cook foods, such as carrots and celery, until slightly soft
  • Mash or purée food until soft
  • Grapes, cherries, berries or melon balls should be cut in half lengthwise

To make mealtime safe, parents and child caregivers should avoid shapes, sizes, textures and other characteristics that increase choking risk to children. They should stay with children while they are eating and watch them closely. Have children sit up; they should not be lying down, walking or running. Have children eat slowly, eating one bite at a time and chewing food well. Stay calm and encourage the children to keep calm as well.    

Children’s safety demands that caregivers and parents understand the risks of choking and know and follow preventative measures. 

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