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Published 11:02 IST, May 1st 2024

Use Of Liquid Nitrogen in Food: Know Risk Factors And Side Effects

Liquid nitrogen is commonly used in the food industry to create dramatic visual effects. However, its misuse can lead to serious health hazards.

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Liquid nitrogen in foods | Image: Pinterest
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A recent incident in Madurai, where a video captured a young boy screaming in pain after consuming a 'smoking' biscuit, has sparked a stern response from the Tamil Nadu government. This distressing event led to an immediate investigation by the state's Food Safety Department, culminating in decisive regulatory action regarding the use of liquid nitrogen in foods.

The state government has now issued a directive to food safety officers, emphasizing strict enforcement of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006. This includes a prohibition against the use of liquid nitrogen in direct consumption items such as biscuits, ice creams, and wafer biscuits. The order mandates that liquid nitrogen must fully evaporate from any food or drink prior to serving to ensure consumer safety.

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Risks associated with liquid nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen is commonly used in the food industry to create dramatic visual effects or for rapid freezing. However, its misuse can lead to serious health hazards, as per a Healthline report. 

Internal damage: Ingesting liquid nitrogen can cause severe internal injuries, including perforations in the stomach or intestines, as the substance expands rapidly from liquid to gas.

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Asphyxiation: This rapid expansion can also displace oxygen, especially in poorly ventilated spaces, increasing the risk of suffocation.
Vulnerable Populations

Certain groups are particularly at risk when exposed to liquid nitrogen:

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Children and the elderly may not be fully aware of the hazards or may be more susceptible to the quick effects of extreme cold.
Individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions might experience exacerbated symptoms or additional dangers due to reduced oxygen levels in enclosed spaces.

Tuna and Salmon Tartar in Liquid Nitrogen at Caviar & Bull Molecular ...
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Safer alternatives for food preservation

Given the risks, food service providers are encouraged to consider safer alternatives:

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Mechanical refrigeration offers a reliable and safe cooling method without the hazards linked to chemical agents.

Cryogenic freezing with CO2: While it still utilizes extreme cold, CO2 freezing poses fewer risks of rapid expansion and is less likely to cause asphyxiation compared to liquid nitrogen.

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This stringent regulatory response aims to enhance public safety by curbing dangerous practices in food preparation, protecting consumers from potentially life-threatening hazards associated with improper use of chemical agents like liquid nitrogen.

00:31 IST, May 1st 2024