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Warning over liquid nitrogen cocktails
Teenage woman has stomach removed to save her life after drinking a 'fashionable' cocktail containing liquid nitrogen
8th October 2012 - An investigation is underway after an 18 year old woman almost died after drinking a cocktail containing liquid nitrogen whilst on a night out with friends in Lancaster City Centre.
The teenager, from Heysham, reported feeling breathless after drinking the cocktail. She then went on to develop severe stomach pains and was taken to Lancaster Royal Infirmary where she was found to have a perforated stomach. She underwent life-saving emergency surgery to remove her stomach and is currently in a serious but stable condition.
A Lancashire Police spokesperson said in a press statement: "The investigation is still in its early stages and we are still interviewing witnesses to establish the full facts.
"The premises involved have fully cooperated with all agencies and have suspended drinks involving liquid nitrogen."
Liquid nitrogen is exceptionally cold, and boils at −196 °C. It's used in, among other things, freezing and transporting food products, freezing and preserving embryos and as a coolant. It is also used in skin clinics to treat skin lesions and warts, relying on its ability to cause tissue damage.
It's become fashionable in cocktails and appears sophisticated because it creates a dramatic cloud of vapour (like smoke or dry ice). It's also cold enough to freeze alcohol, resulting in frozen-slushy-like cocktails. Although it is not a toxic substance, its extremely low temperature makes it unsafe for people to drink or eat because the human body is unable to cope with such a cold internal temperature and this leads to damage to the tissues.
Professor John Ashton, North West regional director of public health, speaking on BBC Radio 5Live, called the cocktails the 'ultimate gimmick' and said the alcohol industry was being irresponsible: "We've got people playing chemistry, playing roulette with young people's health. It's totally irresponsible - you've got fools running the alcohol industry."
The Head of Incident Management at the Food Standards Agency, Colin Houston, said in a press release: "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."
In general, people who have an operation for removal of all, or part, of their stomach are advised to live as normally as possible after the operation.
When the stomach is removed (a gastrectomy), surgeons attach the end of the oesophagus (gullet) directly to the small intestine. Sometimes it is possible to fashion a small pouch that substitutes as a partial replacement for the stomach. After a gastrectomy, the same amount can be eaten every day but only in smaller portions, so large meals are no longer possible. It is recommended that in these circumstances, people eat small, frequent, solid, high protein meals without too much sugar.
After surgery patients may need to take extra calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and iron. This is because these nutrients are normally absorbed from the stomach.
Editor's note: This article was updated after initial publication to incorporate a statement from the Food Standards Agency.