Justin Morrice has a plea for parents after a “traumatizing” experience with his 11-month-old daughter Annabelle.
“To all parents of small children…please always read labels on the foods we feed them,” he wrote last week in a now-viral Facebook post, where he detailed how a snack almost turned deadly.
After feeding his little girl, the 35-year-old Saskatchewan father put a few Gerber “cheesies” on her highchair tray as a treat while he washed her bowl.
“Less than 10 seconds” later, he apparently turned back and “saw her gasping for air.
“She was trying to cry but no sound was coming out.”
He rushed over to pick her up and began to slap her back (as he’d been taught in a first aid class) “for what seemed like forever.” It didn’t work, though, and by then her lips had started to turn blue. He desperately tried again, with no success.
His panic grew when he saw his baby’s lips had become even more blue and her body began to go limp.
“It’s at this moment I thought my little girl was going to die in my arms.”
“Seeing her face blue and the fear in her eyes, I still get choked up hard thinking about it,” Morrice told Global News.
In his panicked state, he then did the only thing he could think of.
“I rammed my finger into her mouth and down her throat and was able to squish the cheesie enough that the next thing I heard was the sweetest sound in the world…her crying.”
WATCH: What to do when your child is choking
He later pored over the package of cheesies and found, “in tiny letters,” this sentence on the back: “Use within five days after removing seal for optimal freshness.”
When he opened a fresh container to compare the two, he says he noticed the ones his daughter choked on were “like a foam ear plug.
“I could squish it but it would expand back out and would not break apart. The ones in the new can crumbled with ease.”
Morrice says he doesn’t blame Gerber because “the warning was on the can.” He just wants parents to learn from his experience and be more careful.
“My little girl was almost taken from me by a cheesie,” he said. “So I just want every parent my message can reach to be aware and read labels.”
Catherine O’Brien, senior vice president of Nestlé Canada (the maker of the Gerber product), told Global News she’s sorry to hear of Morrice’s experience but thanks him for bringing it to the company’s attention. She stressed children’s safety is a top priority for Nestlé.
There are “age indications” on the products, O’Brien added, “to help guide parents to foods their child may be ready for because research has shown that children develop feeding skills at different rates and over a range of time.
“Our Lil’Crunchies snacks are designed for children at the ‘toddler stage’ (12 months+), which is when most children can safely chew and swallow solid foods.”
Morrice isn’t willing to take another chance and has thrown out his supply.
“The ‘what might have been’ still haunts me.”
Other potential choking hazards
Earlier this year, two other products by the company — Gerber Graduates Fruit and Veggie Pick-ups — were the only ones to meet safety guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) when tested against seven other products.
AAP wanted to see baby’s first finger foods meet three criteria:
- Easy to swallow
- Bite-sized or can be cut into small pieces
WATCH: How to make your own baby food at home
Researchers focused on foods marketed to “crawlers” — and found most are potential choking hazards, especially if they’re not eaten within an hour.
The products tested were broken down into melts, cooked produce, puffed grain products, biscuits and cereal-like products. One was Cheerios. The others were Gerber Graduates snacks: Fruit and Veggie Melts, Yogurt Melts, Fruit Picks (in diced apples and diced carrots), Lil’ Crunchies, Wagon Wheels, Arrowroot Cookies, and Puffed (stars).
Even though Gerber’s Apple and Carrot Pick-ups met the three requirements, when they were left out for about an hour, they became stale and “like a hard candy,” which can lead to a risk of choking.
Products like Cheerios and Gerber Graduates Puffs, although initially hard, still got high marks for dissolving quickly.
“My advice to parents would be to think about these three pieces of criteria when choosing food for your babies,” said development pediatrician and study co-author Nicol Awadalla in May.
“It would be a good idea for parents to try some of these products themselves and try to dissolve them without chewing them.”
It’s also recommended to start babies on finger foods when they’re able to sit up on their own without support, and when they can bring their hands or other objects up to their mouths.
WATCH: More on introducing solid foods to your baby’s diet
Here’s a look at some of the other foods you should be careful serving to young kids:
— With files from Carmen Chai, Global News; Infographic by Janet Cordahi