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Hot Dogs: American Classic or Choking Hazard on a Bun?

David Mittleman

Hot dogs have been demonized over their poor nutritional content, but now pediatricians are urging food companies to include a warning label on packages for a different reason: their choking hazard to babies or young children. While the call for warning labels on a seemingly harmless food may seem ridiculous, it’s no laughing matter. Just ask any parent whose had to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a choking child.

According to recent reports, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t just want a warning label on hot dogs—they would rather have the food “redesigned” so that the size, shape and texture would make it less likely for a hot dog to become lodged in a child’s throat. This might not be a bad idea considering 10,000 children a year under the age of 14 go to the emergency room after choking on food, including hot dogs. Sadly, 77 children a year die from asphyxiation, with 17% of those deaths specifically caused by hot dogs.

To put it into context, the Consumer Product Safety Commission requires warning labels on toys with small parts that could pose a choking hazard. However, no such warnings exist for foods, though half of non-fatal choking episodes involve food. However, while Janet Riley, the president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council does agree that parents and caregivers should be properly educated on choking prevention, she doesn’t agree with the warning label idea. Instead, she argues that many hot dogs already have choking-prevention tips on their packages and that parents can “redesign” the food in their own kitchens by cutting cylindrical foods, like hotdogs, into smaller pieces.

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