Food-related choking at early learning services

On 31 March, TVNZ’s Sunday programme ran a story about a terrible accident involving a child choking on a piece of apple at an early learning service.

This incident demonstrates how quickly events can happen and the importance of supervision when children are eating. After the incident we reviewed the guidance on supervision and health and safety management.

Below are links to licensing criteria and guidance relating to supervision, food and first aid. We have included Ministry of Health guidance on food and links to their website. We also have included information from St John and links to their website.

Ministry of Education guidance on supervising children while they are eating

All babies and children must be closely supervised while they are eating. Adults must sit with the children, so their attention is focused and not on completing other tasks. Children must only eat when seated and be encouraged to concentrate only on eating.

Babies under the age of 6 months, and other children unable to drink independently, must be held semi-upright when being fed and are not to be propped up and left unattended.

The licensing criteria and guidance related to supervision of children while they eat are on the Ministry of Education website.


Ministry of Health guidance on food served to children

Babies and young children can choke on food quite easily. They have small air and food passages and are still learning to move food around in their mouths. Their biting, chewing and food-grinding skills are still developing, as is their cough reflex.

Food that is served to children should be appropriate to a child’s age and development. The Ministry of Health have information on their website about appropriate foods and how they can be prepared for different age groups.

Ministry of Health – Developing chewing and swallowing skills (external link)

Ministry of Health – Food-related choking in young children(external link)

Ministry of Health – Foods that pose a higher choking risk for children under 5 years(external link)

Ministry of Health – Preventing choking in young children(external link)

The HealthEd website below also has a range of free booklets on healthy eating, which includes advice on the appropriate food for different age groups. These can be ordered or downloaded as a pdf from the website.

Child health resources - HealthEd website(external link)

Also see:

Eating for healthy babies and toddlers - HealthEd website(external link)

Eating for healthy children aged 2 to 12 - HealthEd website(external link)

First aid from St John

Although all care can be taken to prevent food-related choking, an incident may still occur. If a child does start to choke:

  • keep calm
  • immediately start first aid
  • if the child doesn’t respond, ring 111 for an ambulance.

St John has information on their website about what to do when a person is choking:

St John – Choking(external link)

St John – Baby resuscitation (under 1 year)(external link)

St John – Child resuscitation (1-8 years)(external link)

Licensing criteria and guidance related to first aid, incident notifications along with review and evaluation of a service's operations can be found on our website.

The first aid unit standards are currently under review by the standard setting body, The Skills Organisation in conjunction with NZQA.

The Skills Organisation has confirmed that this review is underway and they have assured us that they will consult with the early learning sector. We will communicate more information about this in further issues of the Bulletin.

Review of Qualifications - The Skills Organisation website(external link)

This terrible accident changed the lives of this child and his family forever. Our thoughts are with the family.

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