Cocktail leaves Delhi man with hole in stomach: How safe is liquid nitrogen? | health | Hindustan Times
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Cocktail leaves Delhi man with hole in stomach: How safe is liquid nitrogen?

Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze desserts and make fancy cocktails, but a Delhi man ended up with a hole in his stomach after consuming it. Is it really safe?

health Updated: Jul 13, 2017 08:46 IST
Anonna Dutt
A nitrogen-chilled drink at a bar in Gurgaon left a Delhi man with a perforated stomach.
A nitrogen-chilled drink at a bar in Gurgaon left a Delhi man with a perforated stomach. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

It gives your drink a ‘cauldron’ look and your ice-cream an instant magical freeze.

From cold chaats to freeze-dried fruits molecular gastronomy chefs use liquid nitrogen to create such dramatic treats. Not many, however, know that it could be potentially dangerous.

One such nitrogen-chilled cocktail left a Delhi man with a hole in his stomach. He was rushed to a hospital emergency and underwent a major surgery where the damaged parts of his stomach had to be removed and attached to the small intestines.

However, this was not an isolated case. Instances of people ending up in a hospital after consuming liquid nitrogen have been reported from the United Kingdom too. In 2012, an 18-year-old British teenager underwent an emergency gastrectomy after drinking a Jagermeister cocktail.

Here is all you need to know about it:

What is liquid nitrogen?

It is nothing but cooled, liquefied form of nitrogen gas. It is so cold that its boiling point is -195.8 degree Celsius. It can instantly freeze anything that it comes in contact with while evaporating.

Is liquid nitrogen safe?

Liquid nitrogen is often used to instantly freeze foods and is safe when handled properly. “Any food that uses liquid nitrogen should be had after all the gas has completely evaporated,” said Dr Saurabh Arora, foodsafetyhelpline.com, a website which helps people understand the rules and regulations governing food safety. He also heads food testing laboratories in Delhi, Baddi and Bangalore.

“The drink should not be bubbling when a person consumes it, as this indicates that there is still nitrogen gas in it. The white smoke-like vapour, however, is no problem as it forms due to the moisture around after the gas has evaporated and cooled the drink around,” he added.

What happens if you consume liquid nitrogen?

Liquid nitrogen is a colourless liquid and though it is used by chefs to create instant freeze, it cannot be seen as a food item. “Liquid nitrogen is so cold that it can give instant frostbite and when ingested it can damage tissues in the oesophagus and the stomach,” said Dr Mriganka S Sharma, surgeon at Columbia Asia hospital.

It also has a large expansion ratio of 1:694 at 20 degree Celsius. This means that one litre of liquid nitrogen can expand to 694 litres of nitrogen gas at 20 degree Celsius . “As little as one spoon of liquid can expand to more than 600 spoons of gas. Once consumed, the gas does not have an escape route and this can lead to a perforation or a hole in the stomach,” said Dr Amit Deepta Goswami, who treated the Delhi man and a consultant of bariatric and minimal invasive surgery at Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon.

Are there regulations governing the use of liquid nitrogen?

Liquid nitrogen is permitted as an additive in frozen food as per the guidelines of the national regulatory body Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). “However, when it comes to the use of liquid nitrogen it is a gray area. There is no clear-cut guideline for it and generally it is considered to be a novel technique, which can be used by food business operators,” said Dr Arora.

Also read | ‘Youtube-trained’ bartenders using liquid nitrogen are like quacks performing a critical surgery’: Experts