Published on 9 Oct 2012 Sections ,

Liquid nitrogen cocktail process under investigation

As student Gaby Scanlon continues to recover from her liquid-nitrogen cocktail ordeal, the focus is turning to precisely how the drink was made.

Gaby Scanlon is understood to have drunk a cocktail involving liquid nitrogen

Gaby had to have her stomach removed after ingesting the drink on a night out in Lancaster to celebrate her 18th birthday.

Police say she might well have died if surgeons at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary had not operated.

Lancashire Police say she consumed a cocktail “involving” liquid nitrogen, which is so cold that its boiling point is -196C.

But one of the issues being investigated by the force, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and Lancaster City Council is how the chemical was involved.

Whether liquid nitrogen was added to the cocktail or was used to chill the glass is believed to be one of the key aspects of the joint investigation.

Prohibition order

None of the agencies involved would comment directly, although they all say management at the premises – Oscar’s Wine Bar in the city – is co-operating fully and immediately suspended the involvement of liquid nitrogen in any of its drinks.

However, Lancaster City Council has confirmed that its environmental health department issued a prohibition order preventing the bar from serving drinks “containing liquid nitrogen”.

Miss Scanlon, from Heysham, Lancashire, who is a student at Ripley St Thomas Church of England Academy, is said to be in a serious, but stable, condition in hospital following the major surgery, last Thursday.

Shortly before her night out, she tweeted on her Twitter account.

Some reports say she has tweeted since but has now deleted her updates.

The liquid form of nitrogen is largely used for cooling and freezing, to preserve biological samples and for the removal of such skin abnormalities as warts.

It can cause severe frostbite on contact with living tissue and should be handled in regulated conditions because of the danger of explosion under pressure, with appropriate safety equipment.

However, it is also used by professional chefs. Its use in cocktails is largely cosmetic, chilling glasses and creating a smoky effect.

And scientists point out that it must be allowed to evaporate before any food or drink is consumed.

The FSA said that while there was no specific legislation relating to the use of liquid nitrogen in drinks, all manufacturers and retailers had to ensure that any food or drink they provided for consumption was safe.

Safety responsibility

“This is a fairly new use for liquid nitrogen,” said a spokeswoman. “This is the first time it has come up as an issue.”

“It’s not toxic. The problem is the extreme cold temperature. It’s this that makes liquid nitrogen unsafe for people to drink and eat because the human body is not built to cope with such a cold internal temperature.”

As a result of Miss Scanlon’s experience, the FSA has published a warning on its website, saying: “It is the business owner’s responsibility to make sure that their staff have been trained and are aware of the potential risks of using liquid nitrogen. They also have to have appropriate safety measures in place to protect both their staff and consumers.”

There was no answer from Oscar’s wine bar, despite continual attempts to make contact.

Lancaster City Council’s environmental health department says it will investigate the incident to establish whether any health and safety offences were committed once the police have finished their inquiries.

But the owner of the London Cocktail Club, JJ Goodman, was incredulous at the use of liquid nitrogen at all.

He told Channel 4 News: “You might try to create an element of a drink using it. We sometimes use dry ice, which is quite different, but it is still dangerous if it touches the skin. And we would tell customers, whatever you do, don’t eat that smouldering rock.”

Dr John Ashton, director of public health in neighbouring Cumbria, said the incident was a consequence of the latest “gimmick” by the drinks industry to encourage people to drink more alcohol.

He believes it is pointless trying to ban the drinks but wants retailers to have to conform to strict standards.

He said: “It is time that MPs stood up to the drinks industry. There should be a proper regulatory regime for this stuff.

“It is difficult to ban, as we know from drugs – particularly designer drugs – because it will drive it underground.

“But licensed premises can incorporate it into their licensing regime. If they are going to sell them, they should conform to proper protocol and be properly trained.”

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