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Back Away from the Hot Dog: Americans’ Problem with Food is a Challenge for Designers

It sounds like a parody, or an assignment for neuromarketers, but the American Academy of Pediatricians is deadly serious: “Any food that has a cylindrical or round shape poses a risk.” Why? According to Dr. Gary Smith, former chairman of the AAP’s Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention, hot dogs account for a full 17% of food-related choking accidents in young kids. And that means a design problem.

“We know what shape, sizes and consistencies pose the greatest risk for choking in children and whenever possible food manufacturers should design foods to avoid those characteristics, or redesign existing foods when possible, to change those characteristics to reduce the choking risk.”

Smith proposes not only choking-warning labels on foods like hot dogs and hard candies (like those on small toys) but also a redesign of those foods. Hard candies could be flat instead of round, he suggests. It’s a tough call, of course–even grapes are a choking hazard, and how do you redesign those?

Designers have been thinking about food a lot lately, whether where it comes from, like Rebar, David Fletcher and CCA’s Tacoshed (above); how it’s made, like MIT’s 3-D food printer (top); or just what’s in it. But the challenge of redesigning a kid-friendly hot dog sounds like a task for someone like food designer Marije Vogelzang. (Yeah, that job does exist.) Her work makes food political, playful, provocative–can she make it safe too?

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