What is a Choking Hazard? A Safety Guide for Parents

By Adam J. Langino, Esq.


What do Pokémon, G.I. Joe, and Transformers all have in common? Mediocre movie adaptations? Sure. But, if you are a parent, you may also have noticed something else. Here’s a hint: Small parts have caused choking-relating deaths in more than 90 children between 2001 and 2012.1 The answer? Pokémon, G.I Joe, and Transformers toys often share a similar warning:

But where did it come from? This article explains the federal regulation relating to choking hazards, discusses whether the law is current, highlights some of the most prominent recent choking-related recalls, and provides helpful advice if you encounter a choking infant.

Federal regulations

16 C.F.R. 1500.18(a)(9) Banned toys and other banned articles intended for use by children bans as hazardous any toy or other article intended for use by children under three years of age that presents a choking, aspiration, or ingestion hazard because of small parts. 16 C.F.R Part 1501 Method for identifying toys and other articles intended for use by children under three years of age that present choking, aspiration, or ingestion hazards because of small parts contains the regulations providing the testing method for determining whether a toy or any other article is hazardous to children under three because it, or one of its components that can be detached or broken off during normal or reasonable foreseeable use, is too small.2

The types of “articles” covered by Part 1501 are wide-ranging, including, but not limited to, squeeze toys; teethers; crib toys; pull and push toys; blocks and stacking sets; bathtub, pool, and sand toys; chime and musical balls and carousels; stuffed, plush, and flocked animals and other figures; preschool toys, games, and puzzles; riding toys; cribs, playpens, baby bouncers, and walkers; strollers and carriages; baby dolls, rag dolls, and bean bag dolls; and toy cars and trucks. However, Part 1501 is not all-encompassing. Several items are specifically exempt from its requirements, including “balloons; books; crayons, chalk, pencils, and pens; children’s clothing; rattles; and pacifiers.

Created in the 1970s, 16 C.F.R. 1501.4 provides the size requirements and test procedures to determine if an article poses a choking hazard.4 It requires that articles cannot be small enough to fit entirely within a test cylinder (called a “small parts cylinder”) measuring 2.25 inches long by 1.25 inches wide.5

To perform the test, a person places the article, without compression, into the cylinder.6 If the pieces fit entirely within the cylinder, it fails the test in any orientation. If it doesn’t, it must be subject to use and abuse tests prescribed by 16 CFR 1500.51 and 1500.52. Any pieces that fall off during that testing must also not fit entirely within the cylinder. If any part does, the article fails.7 The test was created by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.8 it intends to measure whether a toy is too large to enter a child’s esophagus. If an object fits inside the test cylinder, it is deemed too small and believed to potentially be lodged inside the throat of a child.9

The leading research

However, the 16 CFR 1501.4 test is not without its critics. In Choking Hazards: Are Current Product Testing Methods for Small Parts Adequate? Several leading child safety researchers examined more than 300 recalled products that presented a choking hazard to infants and young children due to small parts, as reported by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2003 and 2014.10 The researchers found that a notable quantity of articles, about 17 percent, posed a choking hazard even though they passed the cylinder test. The researchers concluded that the current test cylinder size has not entirely ruled out choking and related hazards within children’s products. It suggested that more research is necessary to determine whether the test cylinder should be enlarged. And noted that a more extensive test cylinder could theoretically rule out more potential risks and possibilities of choking.11 In 2020, choking hazard concerns saw several prominent national children's products recalled. Contigo recalled around 5.7 million kids’ water bottles because their silicone spout was detaching.12 Contigo reported 427 incidents of taps detaching, including 27 taps found in children’s mouths.13

Target recalled about 122,500 Cat & Jack toddler boots because their elastic lace was detaching.14 Target received five reports of the elastic laces breaking. And Bonsu recalled about 32,300 of its small silicone teether spoons because they were breaking.15 Bonnsu received one message of an infant who bit through the silicone teething spoon, resulting in a piece separating inside the infant’s mouth.16

What to do if you encounter a choking infant?

The National Safety Council (NSC), U.S. nonprofit safety organization focusing on eliminating preventable deaths and injuries17, says that infants who are choking require a different rescue procedure than adults. To help a choking infant, the NSC says to clear the airway first. Then, only if the infant cannot cry, cough, or breathe, do the following:18

  • Support the infant face down by holding the head in one hand with the torso on your forearm against your thigh.

  • Give up to five back slaps between the shoulder blades with the heel of your other hand.

  • If the object is not expelled, roll the infant face up, supporting the back of the infant’s head with your hand.

  • Place two fingers on the breastbone just below the nipple line • Give five chest thrusts about one per second about 1 ½ inches deep.

  • Continue cycles of five back slaps and five chest thrusts until the object is expelled or the infant becomes unresponsive.

  • If the infant becomes unresponsive or is found unresponsive, begin CPR.

Birthdays and holidays see many children getting new toys. All of them may not be safe. While the federal standard is a good start, it is the minimum standard, over 40 years old, and research suggests it requires expanding.19


I hope you find the above helpful in selecting safe toys for your child. If the unthinkable happens and your infant is injured due to a choking hazard, please feel free to reach out. I am licensed to practice law in Florida and North Carolina and co-counsel claims in other states. If you would like to learn more about me or my practice, click here. If you want to request a free consultation, click here. As always, stay safe and stay well.

1 Athena Neofostistos, Choking Hazards: Are Current Product Testing Methods for Small

Parts Adequate, International Journal of Pediatrics, May 28, 2017, www.hindawi.


2 16 C.F.R. § 1501.1 (2020)

3 16 C.F.R. § 1501.3 (2020)

4 16 C.F.R. § 1501.4 (2020)

5 Id.

6 Id.

7 16 C.F.R. § 1501.4 (2020).

8 Athena Neofostistos, Choking Hazards: Are Current Product Testing Methods for Small

Parts Adequate, International Journal of Pediatrics (May 28, 2017), www.hindawi.


9 Id.

10 Athena Neofostistos, Choking Hazards: Are Current Product Testing Methods for Small

Parts Adequate, International Journal of Pediatrics (May 28, 2017), www.hindawi.

com/journals/ijpedi/2017/4705618/ at 2.

11 Id.

12 Recalls, U.S. Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n, Contigo Reannounces Recall of

5.7 Million Kids Water Bottles Due to Choking Hazard; Additional Incidents with

Replacement Lids Provided in Previous Recall, No. 20-074 (2020), www.cpsc.gov/



13 Id.

14 Recalls, U.S. Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n, Target Recalls Toddler Boots Due to

Choking Hazard, No. 21-021 (2020), www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2021/Target-Recalls-


15 Recalls, U.S. Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n, Bonnsu Recalls Miniware Teething

Spoons Due to Choking Hazard, No. 20-135 (2020), www.cpsc.gov/Recalls/2020/


16 Id.

17 National Safety Council, About The National Safety Council (2020), www.nsc.org/


18 Safety Topics, National Safety Council, Choking Prevention and Rescue Tips (2020),


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