Big grape danger! Doc gets stick for warning on choking hazard

A paediatrician has urged parents to cut grapes lengthways before giving them to their children for fear they may choke on the fruit. Source: Getty

Parents have been given a stern warning to cut food into bite sized chunks for their children for fear the unusually big grapes grown this season will cause them to choke.

Don’t hand your small kids a whole grape to eat, paediatrician Luke Sammartino has advised, telling mums and dads to cut the fruit lengthways to avoid it getting lodged in their children’s airways, the Herald Sun reports. The doctor said that while grapes have always had the potential to cause a child to choke, the fruit is “particularly big” this season, meaning there’s a further cause for concern.

“As a paediatrician who consults with hundreds of families every year, I have seen and heard it all and an incident like this is obviously incredibly distressing for parents and constitutes an emergency situation requiring immediate action,” Sammartino told the Herald Sun.

Even those that grow the fruit have said grapes are looking bigger than ever this season. Also speaking to the Herald Sun Jeff Scott, CEO of the Australian Table Grape Association, said perfect growing conditions had led to what are effectively super-grapes of “exceptional quality”.

“[This] is why you’ll see some very mature grapes around,” Scott said.

Sammartino has a history in providing helpful info to parents, based on what he sees in his Victorian practice. In October he advised checking drink bottles, sippy cups and straws for mould. This level of care and interest means the doctor has reams of glowing reviews on his Facebook page, that describe him as amazing, fantastic and a miracle worker.

But despite the paediatrician’s best intentions, Sammartino has taken some criticism parents who reckon his advice should just be commonsense for an adult.

“Omg … has the world lost all common sense that we need the media to tell us simple things?” one person wrote on the Sunrise Facebook page. “How about bite and chew as well!”

“Next we’ll be banning grapes because parents don’t teach their kids to chew,” another exclaimed.

While a third said: “Become a choking hazard? Grapes have always been a choking hazard if they aren’t cut up before giving them to small children.”

However, others were more understanding, claiming that while the potential for kids to choke on whole grapes isn’t new information, some people still need to be reminded of this.

“So pleased that the doctor has highlighted the issue as choking on grapes isn’t a new thing but many parents aren’t aware of their obvious dangers,” one person commented on the Sunrise Facebook page.

Another agreed, writing: “I thought this was common knowledge until I started working in a primary school kitchen. There were many staff who weren’t aware of this. Any foods that leave the kitchen are now cut in a way that this can’t happen, children’s lives are worth that extra time.”

And while some may believe they don’t need to be told how to suck eggs, or cut grapes, photos show there are children who have almost lost their lives after choking on whole grapes.

Child development specialist Angela Henderson posted a similar warning on Facebook in 2017, accompanied by an x-ray of a 5-year-old who had a grape lodged in his airway.

“This sweet soul had to be operated on, under general anaesthetic to remove the grape,” she wrote on her Facebook account Finlee and Me. “He is VERY lucky that part of his airway was open or else this could have ended badly.

“So please be mindful that not all kids chew their food, are in a rush at school to get in the playground etc. Please be careful. And when in doubt cut the damn grapes and baby tomatoes. I’m thankful to the paediatrician who shared this and even more grateful to the mother who gave consent for this to be shared in order to bring awareness to our community.”

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Do you make sure to cut grapes lengthways for your grandchildren? Do you think it's common sense to do so? Or do people need to be reminded?

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