The problem is popcorn's fluffy consistency and irregular shape. The puffed-up pieces are easily inhaled without chewing, and the rounded and pointed surfaces can wedge in the throat. Heavier, odd-shaped foods pose the same danger, including many snack crackers, animal crackers, pretzels, peanuts, walnuts and raisins.
These foods present another, treacherous hazard. Small flakes and even whole pieces as big as corn kernels can travel through the airway and settle in the lungs. There, they can trigger pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
For safety's sake, keep young children away from these foods in their original form. Some can be rendered harmless by soaking thoroughly. Soften animal crackers in milk, for example, or raisins in fruit juice.
Finally, what food could be so deadly that one leading pediatrician likened it to "a perfect plug for a child's airway"? Read our last entry to find out.