Popularised by celebrity chef, Heston Blumenthal, liquid nitrogen is increasingly used for the extremely quick freezing of foods. Nevertheless, it is a highly dangerous substance which must never be ingested.
What is liquid nitrogen?
Liquid nitrogen is not an ingredient, but a natural gas. At a temperature of -321 degrees F (-196 degrees C), it will flash freeze any food it touches. As it boils away, it gives off a dense nitrogen fog that can add atmosphere and drama to food preparation. Its extreme cold temperature makes it unsafe for people to drink and eat because the human body is unable to cope with such a cold internal temperature. It is only after complete evaporation of the liquid nitrogen that the food can be ingested.
When used in a controlled kitchen to freeze food, the risk is minimised. However, bringing the liquid nitrogen to the table or putting it in drinks significantly increases the risk and customers are unlikely to understand the hazards associated with the ‘theatre’, thus putting them at risk.
The Gaby Scanlon Case
On 4th October 2012, an 18th birthday celebration went horribly wrong. Gaby Scanlon was out with her friends and ordered and champagne-based cocktail with liquid nitrogen in it. The drink had not been prepared properly and as a result still contained small quantities of the liquid nitrogen.
Gaby soon developed severe stomach pains and became breathless. She was rushed to hospital and had emergency surgery to repair the hole which had been burnt in her stomach. This surgery saved her life.
In response to the incident, MPs called for a ban on the use of liquid nitrogen in drinks, and the Food Standards Agency issued a warning against the use of liquid nitrogen in cocktails. Over two years later, the director and one employee at Oscar’s Wine Bar are now being prosecuted.
You should not use liquid nitrogen in drinks and if possible avoid using it at all in your kitchens. If you are using liquid nitrogen, you should have: risk assessments, standard operating procedures and emergency operating procedures and training records in place.
Please contact Food Alert on 020 7244 1900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any enquiries about this topic.