This Common New Year's Food Is A Choking Hazard

The Japanese rice cakes known as mochi are delicious. Whether sweet or savory, according to The Spruce Eats and All Recipes, mochi cakes are made of steamed white (or sometimes brown) rice or glutinous rice flour. The cooked rice is pounded and mashed before being shaped into tiny buns (via BBC). Mochi can be boiled, grilled, baked or fried, and have a chewy and elastic texture once cooked. It is a common accompaniment to many Japanese meals and can also be a building block for other savory or sweet dishes like soups or desserts. It is a traditional and trendy food eaten around the New Year, celebrated in Japan from January 1-3.

Unfortunately, a tragic trend accompanies the Japanese mochi tradition. According to CBS News, several people die or are hospitalized from choking on the sticky rice treats each year. Choking on this dessert has become so problematic that the Tokyo police created a website with instructions on first aid for victims.

Most of those choking on mochi are elderly, although one recently hospitalized person was under 40. Children are also at risk, say health experts in Japan.

Eat traditional mochi carefully

Japan Today points out that mochi is traditionally eaten in early January New Year celebrations because its stretchy consistency symbolizes longevity. However (and ironically), it's this gummy nature that also makes mochi easy to choke on, especially among the very old and very young. Because the jaw and throat muscles of these individuals sometimes lack the strength to chew and swallow the sticky substance, the mochi can become lodged in the throat and causes suffocation. Most adults who choke on mochi are over the age of 80, and, according to the BBC, 90% of those treated in emergency rooms for mochi throat obstructions were over the age of 65. However, younger adults have also been hospitalized and have even died.

Authorities in Japan, especially around the New Year, advise citizens to eat mochi slowly and cut the cakes into easy-to-chew pieces, especially when consumed by children or the elderly. Mochi should also be thoroughly chewed and carefully swallowed, say officials. These are good tips to keep in mind no matter what time of year you enjoy mochi or how old you are.