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FDA advises against eating liquid nitrogen

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Mr. Bill:
FDA, 8/30/18: FDA Advises Consumers to Avoid Eating, Drinking, or Handling Food Products Prepared with Liquid Nitrogen at the Point of Sale

--- Quote ---The U.S. Food and Drug Administration alerts consumers and retailers of the potential for serious injury from eating, drinking, or handling food products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen at the point of sale, immediately before consumption.

These products are often marketed under the names "Dragon’s Breath," "Heaven’s Breath," "nitro puff" and other similar names.

Liquid nitrogen, although non-toxic, can cause severe damage to skin and internal organs if mishandled or accidently ingested due to the extremely low temperatures it can maintain. Inhaling the vapor released by a food or drink prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately before consumption may also cause breathing difficulty, especially among individuals with asthma. This safety alert advises consumers to avoid eating, drinking, or handling foods prepared using liquid nitrogen at point of sale and immediately before consumption, due to risk of injury.

Foods and drinks prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately before consumption may be sold in malls, food courts, kiosks, state or local fairs, and other food retail locations. These products may include liquid nitrogen-infused colorful cereal or cheese puffs that emit a misty or smoke-like vapor. Similarly, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks prepared with liquid nitrogen emit a fog.

The FDA has become aware of severe -- and in some cases, life-threatening -- injuries, such as damage to skin and internal organs caused by liquid nitrogen still present in the food or drink. There has also been a report of difficulty breathing after inhaling the vapor released by liquid nitrogen when added immediately before consumption. Injuries have occurred from handling or eating products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately before consumption, even after the liquid nitrogen has fully evaporated due to the extremely low temperature of the food.

In general, other foods treated with liquid nitrogen prior to the point of sale and before consumption, for example some frozen confections, are treated in such a way that results in the complete evaporation of liquid nitrogen before reaching the consumer and are no longer at an extremely low temperature, and therefore do not pose a significant risk of injury.

Consumers who have experienced an injury because of handling or eating products prepared with liquid nitrogen at the point of sale, immediately before consumption, should consult their healthcare professional. Consumers should also consider reporting their injury to MedWatch. The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to Submit An Inquiry, or to visit for additional information.
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Uhhhhh what?

Wow we really need to chlorinate the gene pool.

Mr. Bill:
Well, to be fair, very few people have any personal experience with liquid nitrogen, and they're likely to assume that if a product is being sold by an apparently-legitimate retailer, it must be safe.

I used liquid nitrogen frequently, back in my grad school biochemistry lab days.  Weird stuff.  Put some in a vacuum flask and it just looks like barely-boiling water.  You can literally pour it over your hand (briefly!) and nothing will happen -- it boils so fast that your skin is protected from direct contact with the liquid by a layer of nitrogen gas.

The scary part is when you cool a solid object, especially a piece of metal, by immersing it in liquid nitrogen.  Say goodbye to your fingertip if you touch that metal, because you've got no protection against heat conduction.  So that's the problem with these treats -- the solid material is damn cold, and the puffy texture is a good insulator and keeps it cold.

(Biochem lab misbehavior from 40 years ago: take the core tube from an old coffee percolator and put it in a flask of liquid nitrogen.  Instant ultracold fountain!)

Bill, I understand what you are saying.  But anyone that's watched any kind of science show knows that you dip a rose into liquid nitrogen, you can smack it against the table to shatter it.

Mr. Bill:
That's actually one of the things we used it for in the lab -- I mean, not shattering roses, but grinding up fresh plant material in a mortar and pestle.  Even very fibrous plants could be powdered when they were frozen that cold.

I didn't watch The X Files much, but I remember an episode where someone got murdered by immersion in liquid nitrogen.  They didn't show the outcome on screen, just the police tape outlines on the floor afterwards -- lots and lots of little outlines.


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