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Choking Hazards for Children: What You Need to Know and How to Prevent It

by Vannessa Rhoades 07 Dec 2022
Choking Hazards for Children: What You Need to Know and How to Prevent It

Potential safety hazards are a constant source of stress for many parents, whether it’s new research findings or the latest recall on baby gear. Choking is a daily danger that all parents face once their child starts learning how to chew and swallow foods. By the time your little one is around one year old, they may be more adept at eating and even feeding themselves. The danger, however, remains.

What are choking hazards?

A choking hazard is anything that could be caught in a child’s throat, obstructing their airway and making it difficult or impossible to breathe. For perspective, the size of a young child's trachea (windpipe) is roughly the same diameter as a drinking straw. It’s easy to imagine something as small as a peanut being trapped in this tiny area. Food, toys, and even everyday household objects can all be choking hazards.

Choking is the fourth leading cause of accidental death in children younger than five years of age. The most common cause of nonfatal choking in young children is food. 

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Food Choking Hazards to Avoid

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) created a list of foods to avoid because they present a choking danger to young children. It’s important to note that this list does not include all foods which could cause choking. For helpful tips to prevent choking, you can also print this handout from the United States Department of Agriculture.


  • Cooked or raw whole corn kernels
  • Uncut cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Pieces of hard raw vegetables or fruit, such as raw carrots or apples
  • Whole pieces of canned fruit
  • Uncut grapes, berries, cherries, or melon balls
  • Uncooked dried vegetables or fruit, such as raisins


  • Whole or chopped nuts and seeds
  • Chunks or spoonfuls of nut and seed butters, such as peanut butter
  • Tough or large chunks of meat
  • Hot dogs, meat sticks, or sausages
  • Large chunks of cheese, especially string cheese
  • Bones in meat or fish
  • Whole beans

Grain Products

  • Cookies or granola bars
  • Potato or corn chips, pretzels, popcorn, or similar snack foods
  • Crackers or breads with seeds, nut pieces, or whole grain kernels
  • Whole grain kernels of cooked barley, wheat, or other grains
  • Plain wheat germ

Sweetened Foods

  • Round or hard candy, jelly beans, caramels, gum drops, or gummy candies
  • Chewy fruit snacks
  • Chewing gum
  • Marshmallows

How to Prevent Your Child from Choking on Food

The manner in which food is prepared may increase or decrease the risk of choking. For instance, some foods that are served raw, uncut, or in certain sizes or shapes may be more likely to cause choking. Mashing or cutting food into smaller pieces can help minimize the danger. Here are a few recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)  to help prevent your child from choking.

  • Cut food for babies and young children into pieces no larger than one-half inch. Always prepare food to the right shape, size, and texture for your child’s development.
  • Avoid food that is sticky, hard, or difficult to chew and swallow.
  • Ensure your little one is seated in a high chair or safe place while eating (no lying down, crawling, or walking).
  • Don’t allow your toddler to eat in the car or stroller.
  • Keep mealtimes peaceful and free of disruptions when eating.
  • Closely monitor what your little one puts in their mouth at all times while eating.

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Non-Food Choking Hazards to Avoid

Very young children put almost everything in their mouths. Keep an eye out for very small objects that could pose a potential danger, and check under furniture and between cushions for small items a child could find. These objects may include items like:

  • coins
  • buttons
  • toys with small parts
  • toys that can fit entirely in a child’s mouth
  • small balls, marbles
  • balloons
  • small hair bows, barrettes, rubber bands
  • pen or marker caps
  • button batteries
  • refrigerator magnets
  • pieces of dog food

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How to Prevent Your Child from Choking on Non-Food Hazards

  • Check the floors, under furniture and rugs, between cushions, and on counters – anywhere within your child's reach – for small objects or toy parts.
  • Keep refrigerator magnets out of your child's reach.
  • Adhere to manufacturers' age recommendations when buying toys.
  • Avoid purchasing vending-machine toys for small children as these toys aren’t required to meet safety regulations and usually contain small parts.
  • Examine toys frequently for loose or damaged parts, like a loose button eye or broken hinges. 
  • Caution older children not to leave loose game pieces or toys with small parts (like tiny Lego building blocks, dice, beads) where a younger child could access them.
  • Safely dispose of all batteries.
  • Urge children not to put markers, pens, pencils, crayons, or erasers in their mouths when using them.
  • Supervise children if they are playing with a balloon, keep uninflated balloons out of reach, and throw away balloons once they deflate or break.

Stay Alert and Be Prepared

Besides careful meal prep, monitoring play areas, and constant vigilance, there are other measures to help keep children safe from choking. Be sure to supervise your children when they play outside, at another person's home (that may not be as thoroughly choking-hazard-proofed as your own), or at a store. There could be a number of choking hazards that your little one could pick up (rocks, trash, an interesting button on the floor…the possibilities are endless).

In addition, take the time to learn CPR and store emergency numbers in your phone. Learning how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on babies and children can also be beneficial. Watch the video below to learn how:



Consult your pediatrician if your child appears to have an episode of choking, recovers, but then develops a chronic cough. This may signify that your child aspirated the item, and it is still in their lungs.

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