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The use of liquid nitrogen has recently hit the headlines, following an incident where a female was admitted into hospital after drinking cocktails containing the substance.
In response, The Food Standards Agency has issued a warning on the use of liquid nitrogen in cocktails, urging people to be aware of the dangers.
Liquid nitrogen is simply nitrogen in a liquid state. Nitrogen is a colourless, odourless non-toxic gas that exists naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere. However in its liquid state, the properties are altered and, significantly, becomes extremely cold.
Liquid nitrogen has long been used in industry for cooling and cryogenic applications, such as in the transport of food and for medical treatments, but is subject to strict health and safety regulation.
The use of liquid nitrogen in food and beverage preparation is gaining popularity with the rise of molecular gastronomy, and now molecular mixology. As the cocktail industry competes to be innovative, the use of liquid nitrogen is one of the methods used. It is used to chill glasses and flash-freeze ingredients. Increasingly, it is being added to alcoholic drinks, where a dramatic white-grey vapour is then produced.
The use, handling and storage of liquid nitrogen are covered by:
If you are adding liquid nitrogen into cocktails, you have further responsibilities under the Food Safety Act 1990, to make sure all food and drinks you serve are safe and fit for human consumption.
There are two broad types of hazards: temperature and vapours.
The extreme cold temperature of liquid nitrogen can cause frostbite or cryogenic burns on contact with human tissue. It can cause internal damage when inhaled or ingested. If swallowed, the liquid can freeze parts of the mouth, throat or stomach, causing severe cold burns which destroy the tissue.
Liquid nitrogen releases vapours, so there is also a risk of asphyxiation. It should only be stored and used in well-ventilated areas. Vapours are also created when ingested, as the liquid rapidly boils inside the stomach, causing damage such as perforations.
If your establishment currently uses liquid nitrogen, please make sure staff are properly trained in the safe use, handling and storage of the substance. Ensure that risk assessments relating to its use are suitable and sufficient, and that you have implemented safe systems of work. Warn customers of how to drink the cocktail safely.
If you are unsure of usage, handling or storage issues, please discontinue using the substance and contact your supplier for further advice on its safe use.
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