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'Dragon's breath': Parent warns ice cream made with liquid nitrogen could cause health issues

Those with asthma may react poorly to treat
Posted at 4:34 PM, Jul 31, 2018

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — For a summer treat, it doesn’t get much cooler than -320 degrees. That’s how cold liquid nitrogen is when it transforms cereal into "Dragon’s Breath."

“The vapor coming out of your mouth is a nice effect," said Ron Daranty, who owns Subzero Nitrogen Ice Cream in Parkland.

However, a mom in St. Augustine is warning parents of children with asthma about the fad food after her son experienced health issues from eating Dragon's Breath.

“We’ve sold thousands of them since January and we never had any issue," Daranty said.

Subzero employees in Parkland have always warned people to be careful with the very cold cup and avoid drinking any excess liquid nitrogen, Daranty said. But now they've added on a new disclaimer.

"Even though that lady was sharing the article for others that may have respiratory challenges, I thought it was great and we added it to our sign of caution. We also started making people aware of it," he said.

The risk of ingesting liquid nitrogen is purely scientific. Chris Pait, of the South Florida Science Center in Palm Beach County, said the extremely cold temperature can give people frostbite in their mouth or lungs.

"It can evaporate away in your mouth, but if you breathe that cold air in, there’s a chance that it’s cold enough to freeze the water that’s in your lungs," Pait said. "Your lungs are a mucous membrane. They need to be moist to work the way they should, so if you freeze your lungs obviously that isn’t a good thing. That’s going to cause problems. It’s almost like frostbite internally rather than externally."

That’s why the science center shows off the power of liquid nitrogen in a controlled demonstration where professionals use gloves and goggles while handling liquid nitrogen. They show children how it can freeze a balloon, send a plug flying off a beaker, and, of course, make ice cream. But they serve that ice cream in a way that's safe. 

“When we do ice cream, the nitrogen is just there to freeze the liquid into the more solid form so by the time they eat it, the nitrogen is gone, it’s evaporated away," Pait said.

Daranty said employees are specially trained on how to handle liquid nitrogen. People who don't want to try Dragon's Breath can still enjoy regular ice cream Subzero makes using liquid nitrogen.

"We’re pretty cautious about it. We understand the risks with it. Corporate has standard operating procedures and we’re pretty cautious. Everyone here knows how to handle the nitrogen.