It’s difficult to have a conversation in our industry without talking about the incident in Lancaster back in October 2012. I regularly hear things like “didn’t that girl die from that” and “dry ice is dangerous, I think it got banned after what happened in that bar”. So let’s address the elephant in the room: Firstly the drinks in question were made with Liquid Nitrogen (Liquid Nitrogen sits around −196 °C whereas Dry Ice is closer to −78 °C). The girl in question, Gaby, had been out celebrating her 18th Birthday when it’s reported she was given one of these Liquid Nitrogen Jägermeister cocktails as a treat. Young people being young people, she was encouraged to ‘down’ the drink, which (having not fully evaporated) contained liquid nitrogen which froze and perforated her stomach. This was coupled with the rapid expansion of the gas in a warm environment (the body) which caused further complications. She had a gastrectomy (stomach removal) but as was reported at the time, she should be able to lead a relatively normal life with a reduced diet and supplements.
This is a sad case for any bartender as nobody should go out to celebrate their 18th Birthday and end up with injuries as a result of a cocktail. There were clear failings in health & safety from the venue both in attitude and systems. Although much safer than Liquid Nitrogen, the point of this blog post is to educate how to use Dry Ice safely and learn from the past to prevent future injuries.
As well as being useful for creating incredibly theatrical serves in bars and restaurants, much like many things we use in the hospitality industry, Dry Ice can also be harmful if not handled correctly. As mentioned above, Dry Ice is around −78 °C, which is a temperature that can cause freeze burns. As promised, we’re going to talk a little bit about best practises and safety when dealing with Dry Ice. We’ve developed some golden rules below that you can apply to designing your own smoking drink or theatrical food serve.
1. Never handle dry ice directly, especially the Pellet form. Dry ice is approximately -78*c (-108*F) and will cause immediate ice burns when placed in direct contact with the skin. We recommend using protective gloves and safety glasses or even better, a closed system which directly injects the dry ice into a protective vessel. The JetChill System does exactly this so there is no need to handle it.
source: Matty B Bakes, from The Alchemist
2. Never allow your customers to handle dry-ice or have the opportunity to come into contact with dry ice. Bars can be difficult places to control your customer behaviour at the best of times – ever met a Hen or Bridal party anyone? Even the most sophisticated customers can do silly things exposing themselves to danger. Many popular science bars serve drinks with dry ice pellets unprotected at the bottom of the cocktail glass, you can see an example clearly above. Really it’s only a matter of time before someone finishes the drink quickly and swallows one of these pellets. Once inside the body they can cause internal frostbite and gaseous expansion injuries so why take the risk?
Teapot cocktail with strainer in spout
3. If part of the serve, always use a mesh or semi-permeable membrane between the customer and dry ice. Something as simple as a mesh strainer within a teapot is enough to prevent any errant dry ice particles from finding their way into your customer’s mouths. When using dry ice the only limit is your creativity, ingenuity and common sense. In the spout of the Teapot Cocktail above, you can just make out the wire filter. This prevents the dry ice within the teapot from exiting alongside the liquid and safeguards your customers from harm. At JetChill we’ve successfully experimented with Cafetieres (the plunger trapping the dry ice), fine strainers, filter straws, and of course our own patented glass design.
Plastic bottle failing under high pressure
4. Don’t store the dry ice in a confined space or container, you can either create a deadly or explosive environment. As you can see in the picture above, when a vessel under high pressure fails, the results can be quite spectacular. There are two factors to consider when storing dry ice: the pressure and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations. Even in a freezer the dry ice will sublimate (turn) into CO2 gas. CO2 is heavier than regular air and so fills a container from the bottom up. If this container is a storage closet or large freezer, if you bend over to pick up an item in one of these places, a lung-full of CO2 can be enough to make you faint and eventually asphyxiate – be careful! Likewise, an inappropriate container like a sealed thermos, glass bottle or even a soft drink bottle can be dangerous when they fail under high pressure, potentially throwing metal or glass shards through the air. It’s better to use a polystyrene box or open thermos flash to keep small amounts of dry ice. For larger storage we recommend a certified aluminium or steel (check with your provider) gas cylinder, thankfully the JetChill Machine only works with one of these safe cylinders and extracts the gas directly. Not only this, but you can store it for months continuously and use on demand at any time!
Innovative food serves (jetchill.com)
5. For food use, only use powdered dry ice to ensure no chunks (pellets) remain in the mixture. You can use dry ice to great effect in some culinary preparations. We’ll be covering some of these in the future.