Gaby Scanlon was taken ill during a night-out in Lancaster city centre last Thursday to celebrate her birthday, developing severe stomach pains after drinking a cocktail where a smoky “cauldron effect” had been created with liquid nitrogen. She needed surgery after it was found she had a perforated stomach.
An investigation is under way involving Lancashire Police, local environmental health officers and Lancaster City Council. The bar has not been named.
A Lancashire Police spokesperson said: “The premises involved have fully co-operated with all agencies and have suspended drinks involving liquid nitrogen.
“This is a tragic and life-changing incident for an 18-year-old girl who was celebrating her birthday. The use of liquid nitrogen in bars is not illegal, however, we are continuing to look into the matter and will be working closely with our partners from other agencies.”
While the use of liquid nitrogen in drinks is common, it has to be used with care and not ingested. Although it is not a toxic substance, its extreme cold temperature makes it unsafe for people to drink because the human body is unable to cope with such a cold internal temperature.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued a warning to bars to be aware of the dangers of liquid nitrogen. Its head of incident management, Colin Houston, said: “There are safety and handling guidelines around the use of liquid nitrogen, especially in relation to food. 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.
“The FSA will be making local enforcement officers aware of the practice of using liquid nitrogen in the use of cocktails and it will be something officers can incorporate as part of their inspection regime. We’re also working with other departments and agencies to investigate the issue and whether we need to take any further action.”
The company behind NightOwl, the original smoking drinks brand, said bars should not be using liquid nitrogen to create “cheap alternatives” to its safe solution which separates the liquid and dry ice with special glassware (pictured below).
Colin Myers, CEO at NiteOwl Europe, said: “Smoking drinks are the highlight of many bars’ portfolio, but too many bars are adopting DIY alternatives to the certified solutions like NiteOwl, using liquid nitrogen rather than safe CO2 to create the smoking effect.
“Using liquid nitrogen in drinks in a busy bar environment is beyond reckless, especially when safe and simple solutions are available that remove all risk from smoking drinks. Our dry ice drinks create a longer smoking effect, promoting a responsible ‘take your time’ approach to drinking, and incorporate patented glassware that keep the dry ice separate from the liquid being consumed.
“I’m afraid this terrible accident is testament to the fact that a small minority of bar owners remain unaware of the risks involved if they do not choose a safe and certified option such as NiteOwl.”
NiteOwl smoking drinks use patented glassware technology that stores dry ice crystals (CO2 crystals) at the base of the glass, with perforations allowing the pellets to cause the drink to bubble, vibrate, cool and emit clouds of smoke with no risk to the drinker – keeping the dry ice held in the base of the glass. The solution has been certified by trading standards as safe to consumers according to the Food Safety Act 1990.
Charged using a safe and simple machine behind the bar, NiteOwl’s special glassware is “recharged” with harmless CO2, before the NiteOwl drink is poured. The drink smokes for around three minutes, and even if the drink is consumed immediately there is zero chance of harm as the dry ice is held securely in the base, separated by a solid plastic perforated barrier.