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Preventing Choking At Your Thanksgiving Table

A few quick tips on how to avoid choking and what do do when choking occurs!

Thanksgiving is a time to be surrounded by friends and family, celebrate all the blessings in our lives, and give thanks for all we have. Now undoubtedly, Thanksgiving 2020 is going to be much different than any other Thanksgiving we have ever experienced. Yet one safety item remains constant and that is choking safety. During a study conducted by the Gastroenterology Report in 2016, researchers found that choking incidences increased by 10% during holidays. According to Asim Shuja, MD, who is a gastroenterologist and fellow with the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, turkey was one of the leading causes of choking.

There are a host of reasons why holidays present such an increased number of chokings. For one, people are distracted. They are surrounded by family and friends, many of whom they may not get to see as often as they would like. With this, they are conversing. We all know that no one likes when another speaks while eating, but let’s face it, we all do it from time to time. Not only is this impolite gesture, but it also poses a great risk of choking. By speaking while attempting to chew, the epiglottis (the flap over your trachea ~ the tube leading to your lungs) does not close fully. The epiglottis’s job is to close when one swallows, as to direct the food down the esophagus (the tube leading to the stomach). Then the epiglottis fails to do its job, the contents which were meant for our stomachs can now enter into our airway, causing choking. Even more simply, when people take too big of bites, their food can become lodged above the epiglottis.

Additionally, the Gastroenterology Report found that some of the behaviors attributed to choking were not chewing food thoroughly, taking too large of bites, and eating too quickly.

Now how do we stop the increase of choking during the holidays? Here are a few tips!

  • Completely chew and swallow your food prior to talking. (Your family and friends will thank you!)

  • Take small bites and chew thoroughly.

  • Chew turkey and other meats more finely.

  • SLOWWWWWWWW DOWWWWWNNNNNNN. It is not a race! Enjoy your food!

  • Try eating while sitting down as much as possible. Sitting in an upright position is not only better for digestion, but your body is at rest and can be more focused on chewing properly.

  • Take it easy on the wine. (Or any kind of alcohol for that matter) Drinking and choking have had a direct correlation to one another.

  • Keep the conversation light and away from contentious matters. Not only will this save your relationship with your mother-in-law, but arguing while eating has shown to increase the rate of choking.

  • Cut children’s food for them and remind them to take one bite at a time. Some children may protest this, but you can tell them that my father cut my food until I was 12 because he was so afraid of me choking. We can all be embarrassed together.

  • Supervise children while they eat. This goes back to a supervised kids’ table, but it worth repeating, CHOKING IS SILENT! Always have an adult supervise small children as they eat.

  • Make sure your child sits while eating. Running and playing are all fun, but they are not to be done while eating. This goes back to the idea of distraction leading to choking incidents. When eating, the individual’s focus should be on just that, eating.

All of those are great ways to avoid choking in adults, but now what about the kiddos? Many of the same principles of reminding them to chew thoroughly, take small bites, and not talk while chewing still apply. But here are a few more suggestions to keeps your kids safe!

The kids’ table . . . it has been a way for parents to reclaim their sanity, while also being able to talk about grown-up topics without the presence of little ears. But there is only one problem with the kids’ table . . . the only people there are kids. True choking is silent, which means that your adult table will not hear the incident occurring. On top of this, kids don’t know what to do when their brother, sister, cousin, or friend is choking. This delay in care can be critical. The kids’ table should be accompanied by an adult, or a child old enough to know to seek parental help when signs of choking occur. Talk to your older children about what the signs of choking are and why seeking adult help immediately is so important.

Now, what does choking looking like? As I have stated before, true choking is silence. The universal sign for choking is wrapping both hands around the neck. Other signs of choking include a silent cry, inability to speak, appearing to gag, and turning a dusky blue. These signs should not be taken lightly. In the event that this occurs, follow these steps:

  1. Ask the person if they are choking.

  2. If they say yes, nod, or appear to be distressed call 911 right away.

  3. Instruct the individual to cough several times.

  4. If the object does not become dislodge with coughing immediately begin the Heimlich maneuver by:


Wrap arms around their abdomen and place your fists above the belly button and just below where the ribs meet.

Perform abdominal thrusts in a quick upward motion until the item is dislodged.

Should the individual become unconscious, lower them to the ground and provide CPR until emergency services arrive.


Hold the infant’s chest in the palm of your hand, resting the rest of their body on your forearm, and face them in a backward direction.

Deliver 5 forceful back blows between the infant’s should blades.

Should the object not dislodge, turn the infant onto their back (still in a downward direction) and give 5 chest thrusts.

Alternate between back blows and chest thrusts until the object becomes dislodged.

Should the infant lose consciousness, place them on a flat service, and perform CPR until emergency services arrive.

View a video on choking instruction by clicking the link. (

Often times we are lucky and can cough up whatever we are choking on. But when coughing doesn’t do the trick, proper training is what saves that life. If you want to learn more about how to keep your family safe, visit and view our course offers in our Family Heartsaver course. In this course you will learn proper CPR technique, use of an AED, choking safety, and first aid, all in accordance with the leading educational platform, the American Heart Association.

From our Boston CPR Partners family to yours, we wish you a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!

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