Doctors have warned that young children can choke to death on whole grapes, describing three cases of children who needed emergency treatment:

  • A five-year-old boy choked while eating grapes at an after-school club. Despite first aid, the grape could not be dislodged and the child had a heart attack and died.
  • A 17-month-old boy choked while eating grapes with his family at home. Paramedics were called and the grape was eventually removed but the little boy still died.
  • A two-year-old choked while snacking on grapes in the park. He suffered two seizures and spent five days in intensive care before thankfully making a full recovery.

Doctors warn that food is responsible for over half of all fatal choking accidents, with grapes the third most common cause of death in food-related incidents. 

So, why are grapes so dangerous?

The size and shape of grapes means they can completely plug a child’s airway. And the tight seal produced by the grape’s smooth surface makes them difficult to dislodge with standard first aid techniques.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to choking on grapes because:

  • They don’t have a full set of teeth and are still learning to chew properly.
  • Their swallow reflex is still developing.
  • Their airway is very small.

It’s why we advise that grapes should be chopped in half lengthways and ideally in quarters.

How long are grapes a choking hazard?

It’s best to cut up grapes for children up to five, as they have small airways that can easily be blocked by a grape.

But primary school children may still have small airways, though they’re better at chewing and swallowing.

That’s why there’s no fixed cut-off age for cutting up children’s grapes.

You know your child best. Do they sit down still to eat? Do they chew their food properly? Do they eat quickly when distracted, excited or in a rush?

If in doubt, give yourself peace of mind and cut them up.

Learn more

Visit our choking prevention page to learn more about choking and how you can protect your children.

Or, download our free fact sheet on keeping children safe from suffocation, choking and strangulation.

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