What You Don't Know About Choking & Food Safety May Surprise You

by Cat Bowen

Thanksgiving is almost here, and with it comes huge platters of delicious food, pies as far as the eye can see, candy dishes full to the brim, and a myriad of choking hazards that no one ever told you about. What you don't know about choking and food safety is that it's not just a concern for your littlest kids and babies. Older kids need looking out for as well. Also, just because you made something that day doesn't mean it can be held at room temperature all day. (I'm side eye-ing the heck out of my family right now.) It's important to know your hold times and temperatures to protect your family from foodborne illnesses and just general grossness. Don't even get me started on egg nog. (Because I won't be able to finish the article as that stuff goes right to my head.)

Did you know that the New York State departments of health noted that choking is the fourth leading cause of death for children under the age of 5, and that kids under 5 are the most likely ones to choke on food and toys? Also, 30 percent of all deaths due to foodborne illness happen to that same group of children, according to Time. These are staggering statistics, and for the most part, completely preventable, and it begins by trying to find out what you don't know about choking and food safety.

It's Not Just Grapes

While most of us have listened to our pediatricians when they tell us to quarter grapes (use a grape slicer, they're amazeballs), most of us haven't even thought about weirder foods that might be a problem. Things like popcorn, marshmallows, lettuce, cranberries, raisins, and peanut butter are major choking risks for little ones or bigger ones who've been tippling the nog, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Turkey Needs Supervision

Holy cow is turkey fraught with possibilities for problems.

First, if you're a turkey washer, don't. After you've properly thawed your bird in the fridge or under cool running water, cook it right away. Washing or rinsing your raw turkey spreads all that salmonella everywhere and does precisely nothing for the bird, noted Also, cook your stuffing separately. Stuffing needs to reach the same temperature as the bird — 165 degrees Fahrenheit — and by the time the stuffing is that hot? Your bird is dry as the Sahara. Instead, cook them separately using a quality chicken stock or turkey stock and a metric ton of butter. Save the pan drippings from the turkey for the gravy.

As for handling, don't keep out the cooked turkey for more than two hours. After that, it needs to be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit to stay safe from the encroaching hoards of bacteria, noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Turkey is also a choking hazard. Children under the age of 5 should never be given skin or meat on small bones, and toddlers and babies shouldn't ever be given chunks of meat. Small pieces cut into tiny strips that could pass through a straw for the just-starting-to-chew set, and pieces no bigger than a thumbnail for older tots.

Pass The Rolls

Rolls and white bread slathered with a slick substance like apple butter or peanut butter or regular butter are a major choking hazard. Chop it up or toast it up for safety. If it's crunchy and dissolvable, it's less likely to cause a problem, according to Nationwide Children's.

Keep Your Kids In Their Seat

Have you ever tried to corral a toddler in a group of other toddlers at a holiday party? It's like herding cats in a bear den. But, it's really important as they eat. Kids are far more likely to choke on food when they're walking around, warned Nationwide Children's. If you need to separate them, do it. It's better than risking them choking on Aunt Millie's apple pie.

Allergens Are Everywhere

In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to constantly remind our families that our kids have a food allergy or that if something reads "milk chocolate" that means it has dairy in it and don't give it to my freaking kid, OMG, are you kidding me with this right now? Holidays make it especially hard to stay vigilant, but that's the truth. This is true even for adults. My platonic soul mate is deathly allergic to mushrooms, and everyone is forever trying to kill her. "Does this have mushrooms in it?" They answer in the negative, and she proceeds to begin gasping for air as she explains that truffle oil is derived from mushrooms. (I assume she does it in wild gesturing and on a dry erase board.)

Keep It Hot

So you're having a buffet or an open house. Good for you. Personally, I try to keep my interactions with family as short as possible, but they never get the hint. Either way, keep that food above 140 degrees Fahrenheit if you're keeping it hot, otherwise, you're just asking for a line at the bathroom the next day — or worse.

Safety First

Thanksgiving is the peak day for people setting their kitchens on fire, according to the National Fire Prevention Agency. Please make sure you take every possible precaution, and that includes having up-to-date smoke alarms, vented hoods, and a fire extinguisher in the kitchen that's been recently serviced.

Be Prepared

In the off chance that something goes awry. Please know how to do the Heimlich maneuver on both infants and on children.

This list isn't meant to be a Debbie Downer, it's there so that you have peace of mind that everything can and will be taken care of properly. Have fun, eat too much pie, and watch out for a few things.

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