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Tuesday
Oct092012

Nitrogen Cocktail Explodes in Teen, Stirring Up Debate

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Celebrity chefs, master mixologists and medical experts from around the world are steamed up about a report that a British teenager had a portion of her perforated stomach removed after ingesting liquid nitrogen in a trendy cocktail.

Gaby Scanlan was celebrating her 18th birthday at a Lancaster bar in Northern England when she became "breathless" and experienced severe stomach pain after drinking a Jagermeister digestif made with liquid nitrogen, according to the Telegraph newspaper.

After undergoing a gastrectomy to save her life, Scanlan is in serious but stable condition, according to Lancaster police.

Lancaster Royal Hospital, where the teen was treated, did not comment on the case out of "respect" for the family.  But others held nothing back.

"Anything that is the least bit hazardous does not belong in the bar," said Ray Foley, editor of Bartending Magazine.  "People are getting out of hand with these products to show off and not take care of their clients.  This nitrogen cocktail; it's ridiculous."

Liquid nitrogen is about minus-321 degrees Fahrenheit and, if not used properly, can cause permanent frostbite or cryogenic burns.  It is used primarily to flash-freeze food or to make ice cream.  It also turns fresh herbs to powder and can freeze alcohol.

But in today's scene, mad scientists of mixology use it for dramatic effect to uber-chill glasses so that when served, the cocktail emits a steamy vapor.

Bartenders have to be trained and take the "utmost care," according to Sven Almenning, managing director of the Speakeasy Group in Australia, whose staff is well-trained in the art.

"A guest should never be served a drink where the nitrogen still is in liquid form, as this means it will turn into gas inside the person's body," he said.  "This is akin to trying to consume an open flame from a lit Blazer cocktail."

Medical experts, who use liquid nitrogen to freeze warts and in cryosurgery, agreed.

"It's a great way to kill tissue instantaneously," said Dr. Corey Slovis, chairman of emergency medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

"I imagine what happened was it completely devitalized the tissues and froze it to the point where the gastric acid perforated the stomach," said Slovis, who did not treat Scanlan.  "It would not be flexible tissue.  It would be hard frozen."

Others agree that it's risky business.

"This is a dangerous practice," said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, particularly as Halloween approaches and young people attempt daring stunts.

The result can cause frostbite-like burns to the upper airway and throat, as well as the stomach.  Breathing can also be compromised.

But celebrities in the fine art of mixology say that when used properly by trained professionals, liquid nitrogen is safe and popular with clients.

"It's mesmerizing," said Dave Arnold, head of culinary technology at the French Culinary Institute and partner in charge of cocktails at the trendy Booker and Dax bar at Momofuko in New York City.

"It's like so many things in life.  If it is used improperly, there are hazards," he said.  "A deep-fryer also has dangers when people are using it without training."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio