As injuries mount, FDA warns consumers on liquid nitrogen drinks, desserts
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about consuming food or beverages that contain liquid nitrogen, including ice cream, cheese puffs, cereal and cocktails.
The FDA said it 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." It also noted reports of difficulty breathing by individuals inhaling the vapors coming from the liquid nitrogen, a non-toxic chemical element that maintains an extremely low temperature.
The government warned “consumers avoid eating, drinking or handling foods prepared using liquid nitrogen at point of sale and immediately before consumption, due to risk of injury” in a safety alert. The FDA advisory seems to have been prompted by a number of products that use liquid nitrogen, including snacks and frozen desserts with names such as "Dragon’s Breath," "Heaven’s Breath," "nitro puff" and other similar names.
It's really no surprise that young consumers are looking for a fun new dessert or cocktail option, especially one that features smoke. An Instagram snap or tweet with those puffs being emitted as a person sips a drink must be almost irresistible in today's social media environment. The growing trend might be best expressed in a food option called Dragon's Breath, in which cereal or cheese snacks are covered in liquid nitrogen in order to create the cold mist.
Liquid nitrogen works because it's really cold. And if it's consumed too soon or in too great a quantity, it can cause burns or internal injuries. As emergency room physician Robert Glatter told Healthy Day, liquid nitrogen should be fully evaporated before people consume a food or beverage, but this often isn't the case.
Despite the potential dangers, consumers may not be aware of the dangers of liquid nitrogen until it's too late, the FDA warned. Although the agency doesn't share information about the number of reported injuries, several have made headlines.
In 2015, for example, a man sued George Clooney's tequila company, Casamigos, after swallowing a smoking cocktail made from the tequila that used liquid nitrogen. The man said he consumed a drink recommended by a bartender who did not tell him about the dangers of liquid nitrogen and encouraged him several times to drink it quickly. In a similar case several years ago, an English woman had her stomach removed after drinking a “nitro” cocktail at a bar for her 18th birthday.
It's no surprise that consumers, especially millennials and other young consumers, are looking for a drink that's cool and different. Increasingly, consumers want gimmicks in some of the products they consume. Death Wish coffee's product packaging, delivers an average of 728 mg of caffeine per 12 ounce serving — or 200% more caffeine than the average dark roast coffee. A host of products also include exotic flavors, botanicals and other flavor enhancements.
The FDA certainly is wise to offer a stern warning to vendors, retailers and customers about the physical dangers of consuming liquid nitrogen. It now falls on businesses selling products using the tricky substance to go far and above to make sure it's used safely, or the government might decide to go beyond just a warning and crack down on liquid nitrogen if more injuries take place.