Don’t drink liquid nitrogen

No matter how trendy it might seem, do not drink cocktails made with liquid nitrogen. BBC reports today that a teenager apparently had to have emergency surgery to remove her stomach after drinking a cocktail containing liquid nitrogen and suffering severe pain and breathlessness.

Liquid nitrogen exists at minus 196 Celsius. If you thought eating an ice cube might hurt, then this is a whole different world. At that temperature the liquid flash freezes tissue on the way down. And, unfortunately for this girl the drink flash froze a hole through her stomach wall…

This was on the BBC news today but a quick Google reveals liquid nitrogen infusions are quite common in cocktail bars across the globe. Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal is well known for using liquid nitrogen in some of his recipes, although I’m sure he has the sense not to partake until things have warmed up at least to the temperature of solid ice cream.

However, I would have assumed that liquid nitroge would actually fall under most national chemical safety regulations, such as COSHH, so presumably it would be illegal to use it in a cocktail bar and offer it in whatever form to the drinking public without proper risk assessments in place and safety equipment, screens, thermal gloves, goggles etc. Certainly offering it as a beverage does not sound like it would come under the banner of legal.

I recall a first-year university lecture, where our prof apparently dipped his hand in a bottle of liquid nitrogen and then smashed his hand on the bench. One of the students fainted…the rest of us laughed, oh how we laughed, when we realised it was an inflated rubber glove. He went on to flash freeze various flowers and other stuff and to smash those. I think the point he was trying to make is that it freezes things in a flash…including stomachs, it seems, unfortunately.

BBC – Newsbeat – Teenager's stomach removed after drinking cocktail.

3 thoughts on “Don’t drink liquid nitrogen”

  1. Yes, I’ve often wondered about how dangerous breathing in helium might be. Of course, when they do that trick on the TV they almost always just use a sound fx to distort the voice. Funnily enough…I discuss it in my book. Everything thinks that breathing helium makes your voice go “high” but actually your vocal folds vibrate at the same frequencies they usually do, the helium just acts as a kind of gaseous low-pass filter allowing only the higher-frequency harmonics to escape…

  2. Love the story about your Prof. Hadn’t heard that one. Sounds like a total mad b******; I like him.

    There’s a flashy cinema chain we visit when in the US that serves these cocktails, although I’ve never felt the urge to drink one. Right off the idea now. Be interesting to see if any actions follow from this.

    On a different but related note. Any fun thing in excess can be dangerous – like the helium silly voice thing for example. I was once very stupid – 25 years or so ago – and took two consecutive lung-fulls straight from a cyclinder. The second one must have really dropped my oxygen to low levels, as it was everything I could do not to fall over unconscious. Never forgot that, and in some ways a valuable lesson – especially for someone who went on to work with argon and nitrogen on an industrial scale. Nothing constructive to learn from a hole in the stomach though.

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