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Marketplace Scratch Pad

Triangle-shaped hot dogs?

Scott Jagow Feb 22, 2010

There’s quite a bit of discussion today about a warning from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Because choking on food is a considerable danger for young children, the Academy wants mandatory labeling about choking hazards. And it suggests some foods like hot dogs should be “redesigned.”

More from the statement’s lead author:

“We know what shape, sizes and consistencies pose the greatest risk for choking in children and whenever possible food manufacturers should design foods to avoid those characteristics, or redesign existing foods when possible, to change those characteristics to reduce the choking risk…

“Any food that has a cylindrical or round shape poses a risk,” he pointed out. Smith said that hot dogs were high on the list of foods that could be redesigned — perhaps the shape, although he said it would be up to the manufacturers to figure out the specifics.

The hot dog industry’s response:

In response to the call for warning labels and hot dog re-engineering, Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council, pointed out that most hot dog packages in the U.S. already advise parents to chop up hot dogs into more easily swallowed pieces.

“As a mother who has fed toddlers cylindrical foods like grapes, bananas, hot dogs and carrots, I ‘redesigned’ them in my kitchen by cutting them with a paring knife until my children were old enough to manage on their own,” she said.

Even when they’re old enough, kids can still choke on food. Earlier this month in California, a 13-year-old boy died after eating a hot dog in a bizarre contest:

Noah had joined 12 other boys and girls in a hot dog eating game. It was not a contest to see who could eat the most hot dogs…

Instead, each participant was handed a cooked hot dog with whipped cream on it in a bun. Each child who could finish the odd combination was to receive candy as a prize.

Perhaps this is why doctors believe warning labels are necessary. Because adults hold contests that encourage kids to eat hot dogs with whipped cream. Who wouldn’t gag? And for swallowing the whole thing, candy was the prize. Did I mention this was a fundraiser for children in Haiti? It’s tragic and nonsensical.

The pediatrician’s group says hard candy might also be redesigned so that it’s flat instead of round.

Choking is clearly a danger that parents should be aware of, but maybe the doctors’ message should be something else entirely.

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