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Most Common Foods Adults Choke On

By Lisa M. Schaffer, Esq. | Last updated on

Choking is no joking matter. It is the third leading cause of death in American homes. Most of us have been eating for decades and have gotten a lot of practice at it! But that's why they call it an accident -- an unfortunate and unplanned event. But is it? Here are the three most common choking food challenges for adults. If you're concerned about a choking hazard, perhaps consider cutting these out, or at least limiting them in certain situations where the risk of choking is higher or if your ability to deal with a choking hazard is compromised. Translation -- these are not the best foods to serve at a cocktail party.

Foods by the Handful

One thing that makes choking so common is the manner in which you eat. Grabbing a handful of food and shoveling it in your mouth sends food closer to your windpipe, which is ever-so-close to your eating tube. Talk about a design defect! We are all guilty of this from time to time, especially if we are hungry or just way too excited for that amazing first bite. Foods that fall into this category are popcorn and nuts.

Small Bites

Some foods are so small that they fit within the opening of the windpipe and can get easily lodged in there. The diameter of a typical adult windpipe is 0.7 inches. Theoretically, any food with a smaller diameter can make its way down the trachea, causing severe breathing issues. Keep in mind that choking is food getting down the trachea. Adult tracheas are generally four inches long. If that food goes down even just a few inches, it takes a lot of coughing, or Heimlich maneuvers, to get it back up and out. Foods that typically fall into this category are grapes, popcorn and carrots

Expanding Foods

The texture of some foods expand, or at least do not break down, when chewed and accompanied by liquids. Peanut butter sandwiches are a big problem in this category, since peanut butter does not orally dissolve, bread expands, and chewing really doesn't make the size of the peanut butter sandwich bite any smaller. Same goes for bagels and soft pretzels. Coupled with the excitement of taking a big bite out of your favorite carb, and this could increase your chance of having a choking incident.

If you do experience a choking hazard, here are a few legal tips to keep in mind:

  1. If someone is in your home as an invited guest, you do have a legal duty to administer aid by calling 911. You don't necessarily have to administer hands-on aid, such as in the form of the Heimlich maneuver. But if you do, don't be too concerned about liability, since most states have a Good Samaritan law which protects a person from liability when administering emergency medical aid.
  2. If you see someone choking, but don't have a relationship with them, you don't need to administer aid. There is no duty to rescue a stranger, unless you created the danger. There may be times when, as much as you'd like, you can't help. Perhaps you are holding a child, caring for an older relative, or doing so would create an even greater problem.

Hopefully these tips provide some greater clarity on how choking accidents come about, how to avoid them, and your legal obligation in a choking situation. But remember, 911 is a free call. So never be afraid to call for help. If you or someone you love has had a choking accident, and you are looking for legal advice, contact a local personal injury attorney, who can review the facts of your case, and offer you legal advise for your particular situation.

Bon appetit!

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