FDA: Foods Prepared with Liquid Nitrogen for Immediate Consumption May Pose Serious Health Risk

August 30th 2018
Kristen Coppock, MA, Editor

Food products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen at the point of sale, immediately before consumption, have the potential for serious injury, and the FDA is advising consumers to avoid eating, drinking, or handling these products.

Food products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen at the point of sale, immediately before consumption, have the potential for serious injury, and the FDA is advising consumers to avoid eating, drinking, or handling these products.1According to the agency, the alert issued Thursday is aimed at products being marketed as “Dragon’s Breath,” Heaven’s Breath,” nitro puff,” and other similar names.

Although nontoxic, liquid nitrogen can cause severe damage to skin and internal organs if mishandled or accidently ingested, due to the extremely low temperatures, the FDA said, in a prepared statement. 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.1

Foods and drinks prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately before consumption 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.1

Many of these products are sold in malls, food courts, kiosks, state or local fairs, and other food retail locations.1The frozen puffs are typically served in a cup, and eaten with a skewer or similar utensil. When the food is chewed, the cold condenses moisture in the consumer’s exhaled breath and give the appearance of breathing smoke.2

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.1According to the FDA, agency officials are aware of severe—and in some cases, life-threatening—injuries caused by liquid nitrogen still present in the food or drink being consumed, including a report of difficulty breathing after inhaling the vapor.

Health departments across the country have also expressed concern for these types of novelty foods. In New York, Suffolk County Commissioner of Health Services, James Tomarken, MD, issued a warning in June.2In a memo sent to local health officials, officials with the New York State Department of Health cited the potential for injury associated with the use or service of liquid nitrogen.

“We advise that precautions be taken when preparing or eating liquid nitrogen puffs. Instances of frostbite and tissue damage have been reported when residual liquid nitrogen is left in the serving cup,” the memo stated.2“If fingers are used to remove the product from the cup, skin contact with liquid nitrogen can cause frostbite. Ingestion of liquid nitrogen can cause severe damage to the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. Preparing the puffs in a manner that removes residual liquid nitrogen prior to serving effectively reduces the potential for injury.”

In general, other foods treated with liquid nitrogen prior to the point of sale and before consumption, such as 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.1According to the FDA, these products do not pose a significant risk of injury.

The FDA is urging consumers who have experienced an injury because of handling or eating products prepared with liquid nitrogen at the point of sale, immediately before consumption, to consult their healthcare professional.

References

  1. FDA Advises Consumers to Avoid Eating, Drinking, or Handling Food Products Prepared with Liquid Nitrogen at the Point of Sale [news release]. Silver Spring, MD; August 30, 2018: FDA website.https://www.fda.gov/Food/RecallsOutbreaksEmergencies/SafetyAlertsAdvisories/ucm618058.htm?utm_campaign=CFSANCU_Nitro_08302018&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua. Accessed August 30, 2018.
  2. Suffolk County Health Commissioner Issues Warning about Dessert Fad known as “Dragon’s Breath.” Suffolk County Health Department. Suffolk County website.http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Home/tabid/59/ctl/details/itemid/7173/mid/2638/suffolk-county-health-commissioner-issues-warning-about-dessert-fad-known-as-dr.aspx. Published June 7, 2018. Accessed August 30, 2018.

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