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Thursday, 3rd January 2013
In General Japan News,

Mochi choking deaths hit the headlines again

So-called mochi, or pounded rice cakes, are posing a serious health risk to eaters, as it emerged that two people died after choking on the popular snack.

The Tokyo Fire Department reported that a further 15 people were rushed to hospital after similar incidents involving the rice cakes.

All the accidents have occurred over the New Year period as these sticky treats are a delicacy traditionally eaten to usher in the coming 12 months.

The authorities have suggested that in order to limit further choking incidents consumers should cut up their mochi so that they make sure the pieces are in easy-to-digest chunks.

Because mochi are very sticky, they should be chewed well before swallowing to ensure they are properly broken down.

In addition, the fire service suggests that people only eat mochi in the presence of another person, presumably so they can help or call the authorities if an incident occurs.

Mochi are made using a type of rice called mochi-mai, a short-grain rice which is stickier than medium grain rice traditionally used in Japanese cooking.

Historically mochi would be made by pounding the rice with a big hammer. However, it is possible to get ready-made mochi, so you can enjoy the delicacy without any of the hard labour.

Anyone who remains unfazed by the recent choking incidents, which are reported every year usually among the older population, may want to buy them in their local store.

You can get hold of them in the wagashi section of most grocery shops and they will keep for a long time as they don't need to be refrigerated.

In 2010, the Food Safety Commission of Japan put together a risk assessment report looking at choking accidents caused by foods.

It concluded that sticky rice cakes and steamed rice were among the top culprits of food which had caused choking incidents, and that sticky rice cake was the leading cause of choking.

The report found that the elderly accounted for over 80 per cent of the victims of choking accidents involving grains which include sticky rice cakes, steamed rice and bread.

Written by Mark Smith