Liquid Nitrogen – A new Danger

#LiquidNitrogen

According to a report in Hindustan Times, two months ago, a 30-year-old who downed a fancy “smoking” shot did not realise that the drink was to be consumed only after the smoke dissipated. In fact, he consumed two.

Just after consuming the drink the man began to experience extreme pain in his stomach accompanied by breathlessness, and had to be immediately rushed to a hospital in Gurgaon.

Upon examining the man, the doctors decided that surgery was necessary and once they opened him up, they realised the extent of the damage caused. According to the report, his stomach “was open like a book”.

ln_070317091621.jpgPhoto: Carbonated.tv

The man, who wished to remain anonymous, was quoted by HT saying, “I gulped down the drink, I started feeling very uncomfortable, like how you feel when there is an acid reflux. The bartender passed me another drink and I had it, not thinking too much about the discomfort. However, within seconds, my stomach started swelling and I was in unbearable pain. Breathing was also difficult.”

How did this happen?

The drink that he had consumed was covered with liquid nitrogen. Why? Liquid nitrogen has a boiling point of -196 degrees Celsius. Hence it is used for a variety of things, such as a coolant for computers, in medicine to remove unwanted skin, warts and pre-cancerous cells, and in cryogenics, where scientists study the effect of very cold temperatures on materials. But apart from all the medical and scientific uses, liquid nitrogen has also become a popular gastronomic tool.

Restaurants and bars use liquid nitrogen as a method for instantly freezing food and drinks, or creating and clouds of vapour or fog when exposed to air. Of course, caution should be maintained. When used to freeze drinks, these should only be consumed after the nitrogen has completely evaporated.

According to John Emsley of the Royal Society of Chemistry in England, “If you drank more than a few drops of liquid nitrogen, certainly a teaspoon, it would freeze, and become solid and brittle like glass. Imagine if that happened in the alimentary canal or the stomach. The liquid also quickly picks up heat, boils and becomes a gas, which could cause damage such as perforations or cause a stomach to burst.”

While the use of 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), there are no definitive guidelines set for it, especially in terms of safety.

“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 Saurabh Arora of FoodSafetyHelpline.

The aftermath

The patient, when he was admitted, had an abnormally swollen stomach, and his heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation were well away from optimum conditions. Surgery revealed a huge perforation in the middle and the lower parts of the man’s stomach.  Since it was not possible to stitch it back, as the tissue near the tear was too damaged, the doctors removed the damaged portion of the stomach and connected his stomach to the remaining part of the small intestine.

Post the surgery, the patient had to be kept on a ventilator for three days, but thankfully he has since recovered.

“Consuming liquid nitrogen can cause havoc in a person’s system. By nature, liquid nitrogen expands manifolds and evaporates when left at room temperature. The gas did not have an escape route after the person consumed it and the sphincter closed, this is what led to a perforation in his stomach,” said Dr Amit Deepta Goswami of Columbia Asia Hospital in Gurgaon, where the man was taken to.

Courtesy : Hindustan Times

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