Indonesia is warning people against consuming liquid nitrogen after more than 20 children were injured after eating a street snack called “dragon’s breath,” which is at the center of a dangerous new viral video trend.
The children suffered skin burns, severe stomach pain and food poisoning after eating the colorful candies, according to the Indonesian Health Ministry, which is urging parents, teachers and local health officials to be vigilant.
The candies are immersed in liquid nitrogen to create a vapor effect when consumed. They’re popular with kids, dozens of whom have uploaded clips to short-form video app TikTok showing them blowing the fumes out of their mouths, noses and ears. A video showing a street vendor preparing the snack has been viewed nearly 10 million times.
Around 25 children were injured while eating the sweets, including two who were hospitalized, said the ministry’s director-general, Maxi Rein Rondonuwu. No deaths were reported.
The use of liquid nitrogen in food preparation is not illegal. Top chefs often use the fumes to create theatrical effects when serving dishes. Clear, colorless and odorless, it is widely used in medical facilities and as an ingredient in food freezing.
However, it can be dangerous if used improperly.
“Not only is liquid nitrogen dangerous when consumed, it can also cause severe breathing difficulties from nitrogen vapors being inhaled over a long period of time,” Maxi said.
The first case was reported in July 2022, according to the ministry, when a child from a village in Ponorogo regency in East Java suffered cold burns on the skin after eating the snack.
Other cases were reported in November and December, including a 4-year-old boy who was rushed to a hospital in the capital Jakarta with severe abdominal pain.
“Schools need to educate children in the community about the dangers of liquid nitrogen in food to prevent further cases of serious foodborne illness,” Maxi said.
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In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued safety alerts warning that consuming foods such as ice cream, cereal, or cocktails prepared with liquid nitrogen could result in serious injury.
“Injuries have occurred from handling or consuming products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately prior to consumption, even after the liquid nitrogen has completely evaporated due to the extremely low temperature of the food,” the FDA said.
“This is a dangerous chemical compound,” said Clarence Yeo, a Singapore-based doctor. “It’s irritating to the stomach and can cause burns in the mouth and esophagus. Children would be particularly sensitive to (its effects) when eaten in large quantities.”
Yeo warned he would “not advise anyone to eat it.”
“You could end up in the hospital, and worst-case scenario, there could be organ damage,” he said.