UAE: Liquid nitrogen is safe to use if handled properly, say experts

Chefs, doctor talk about the chemical that has a boiling point of –196°C

Restaurateurs and doctors in the UAE are reassuring people that liquid nitrogen is safe to be used in restaurants as long as it is handled safely.

Liquid nitrogen in restaurants

A chemical predominantly used in the medical sector, liquid nitrogen is colourless and odourless. In his career, Dr. Mohamed El Sayed Eraki Ibrahium, consultant general, laparoscopic surgery and oncosurgery, Burjeel Specialty Hospital, Sharjah has also seen burns due to the chemical in a medical capacity. “We have seen liquid nitrogen burn cases involving medical staff,” he said.

“I remember handling a staff member who burned her hand. Handling liquid nitrogen without any protective measures can cause a severe cold burn if it comes in contact with the skin.”

Dr. Mohamed said the chemical is relatively safe to use in food because of the form it is used in. “Liquid nitrogen is sometimes used as a food preservative and is added to some foods, such as ice cream, for aesthetic reasons,” he said. “However, it is only added after it has reached its boiling point and has turned into a gas. If it is used in liquid form, it can cause damage to the stomach.”

Liquid nitrogen, which has a boiling point of –196°C, has been used in the medical industry for removing unwanted skin and to kill cells that make up cancerous tissues. Of late, it has become increasingly common in the F&B industry where it has been used to create an atmosphere of theatrics with plumes of smoke.

Restaurateur Sanjay Vazirani said that a growing number of restaurants have started using liquid nitrogen to offer a dramatic food experience. “By chilling cocktail glasses with the chemical, it begins to smoke and emits a vapour which adds to the visual appeal,” said the founder and CEO of Foodlink global restaurants and catering services.

He said the chemical also has several uses because of its properties. “Because of its extremely low temperature, liquid nitrogen can freeze anything in a few seconds or minutes,” he said.

“It eliminates heat from specific processes, which makes bacterial growth difficult or impossible.”

Safety when handling liquid nitrogen

According to experts, it is essential to have protective gear when handling the chemical. “When directly handling liquid nitrogen, people should always wear appropriate protective equipment like gloves, goggles, and a lab coat,” said Dr. Mohamed.

He also cautioned against ingesting the chemical in its liquid form. “When liquid nitrogen is consumed, it can cause severe damage to the skin, mucous membranes, and internal organs,” he said. “ It should only be handled by trained professionals in a controlled laboratory or industrial setting, with proper safety equipment and procedures in place.”

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