FAYETTEVILLE – A growing trend of dipping frozen deserts in liquid nitrogen shortly before serving poses several potential health risks, according to food science and food safety professors at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Treats made by dipping food items in liquid nitrogen immediately before serving produce extremely cold vapors. When placed in the mouth, those nitrogen vapors can come out of the nose and mouth. Liquid nitrogen is extremely cold. It hits its boiling point at -324 degrees and changes from a liquid to a gas. This transformation produces possible health risks, including internal and external burns, and internal complications when the gas expands in the stomach, according to experts.

“Liquid nitrogen is a chemical used in many cooling and cryogenic applications,” said Ya-Jane Wang, professor of carbohydrate chemistry. “It can be used in a variety of food preparations from commercial industry to gourmet restaurants but should never be ingested.”

Wang and Sun-Ok Lee, professor of nutrition, are both food scientists with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and the U of A’s Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

They recently discussed potential hazards of consuming food dipped in liquid nitrogen with elementary school children visiting the Fayetteville campus as part of the Summer STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) Camp.

They offered the students a few warnings, and suggested one alternative:

• Be cautious because liquid nitrogen is colorless, tasteless and odorless.

• The extremely cold temperature can burn and damage human tissue.

• Make sure all liquid nitrogen is evaporated.

• Use under proper supervision.

• A safer liquid nitrogen dessert alternative is ice cream because there’s more time for evaporation of the nitrogen.

The summer camp was hosted by Bumpers College’s departments of animal science, food science and horticulture in partnership with the Center for Mathematics and Science Education.

For more information on food science, food safety and food science STEM camps or departmental tours, email student relations coordinator Rosa Buescher at rosab@uark.edu.

— Robby Edwards is with the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.