Parents and childcare providers have been reminded of the importance of monitoring their children carefully after an inquest heard last week how a toddler died after choking on a popcorn kernel.
The Dublin coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, called for a ban on popcorn in preschool facilities after hearing the circumstances in which 18-month-old Lauren Meehan-O’Byrne from Ballynanty, Limerick, died in hospital after the incident at her creche in March last year.
She started choking after being in a room where older children had been given popcorn the previous week and a popcorn kernel was found lodged in her trachea during surgery.
The coroner returned a verdict of accidental death in what investigating gardaí described as a very tragic accident.
A group representing preschools called on members to give due consideration to the case and to the coroner’s call for popcorn to be banned.
“I would support the coroner. When considering foods that are potential choking hazards, it is always best to err on the side of caution,” said Irene Gunning, the chief executive of Early Childhood Ireland.
The organisation has more than 3,000 members who mostly provide preschool services, such as playgroups and parent-and-toddler services, and Ms Gunning said incidents like this were isolated and rare.
“However, it does give everyone cause to stop and think and to put the safety of children even higher on our collective agenda and to make sure we all work together to minimise risk for the children under our care and give guidance to parents,” she said.
“There are a whole range of potential choking hazards for young children, large chunks of an apple or other piece of food, or small hard foods like nuts or popcorn kernels or sweets. Because they are very young and learning to bite and swallow, they need to be supervised when they are eating,” Ms Gunning said.
Dr Mary Flynn, Food Safety Authority of Ireland chief specialist in public health nutrition, said there had been a range of studies on nutrition and diet of children up to the age of one and from five up. However, she said, there was little or no research and no guidelines on the period between the ages of one and five when diet changes rapidly.
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