Risk of suffocation for children by hard sugar balls

In the confectionary trade tennis ball-sized multi-coloured sugar balls with a soft chewing gum core have been available for some time. They consist of several outer layers of rock-hard sugar and can be slowly reduced through licking. If the hard sugar balls reach a critical size, they can inadvertently get into the pharynx. Since they are too big to be swallowed, they can block the respiratory tract in the worst case. Corresponding cases have been documented in the United States. If the candy is not rapidly removed, there is a risk of death by suffocation. "Even if the probability of such an accident is very low: foods, in particular if they are intended for children and adolescents, should as far as possible exclude any risk of life-threatening consequences ", say Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel.

The hard sugar balls of different producers have a diameter of around 5 cm. With this size, they can normally not be taken into the mouth. And in order to get to the soft chewing gum core, the giant ball must be reduced by licking and sucking. If a size of around 4cm diameter is reached - this corresponds approximately to the size of a table tennis ball - it fits into the mouth. The remaining sugar layers can then be crunched.

Through licking and sucking a critical size is reached for the consumer because the sugar balls then fits exactly into the pharynx. If it slips inadvertently, for instance while playing or sucking without full concentration, into the pharynx, the respiratory tract is blocked in the worst case. Corresponding cases are known from school children in the United States. The life of the children could be saved by persons who happened to be there. As a life-saving rescue measure they applied the so-called Heimlich manoeuvre. BfR is currently not aware of any accidents involving hard sugar balls in Germany.

During the Heimlich manoeuvre sudden pressure on the abdominal cavity is to generate excess pressure, so that the respiratory tract is freed. A hard sugar ball closely blocked in the pharynx cannot be removed using the fingers; there is rather a risk that it is pushed even further into the pharynx during such an attempt.

About BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. BfR engages in own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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