Chemistry for ice cream addicts   

In April 2015 on April 7, 2015 at 11:25 am

Kirsty Nitrogenie2 copy

Kirsti: We’re in Noosa at the moment, enjoying some beach time, pool time, more beach time and lush green grass and forests. Having come from western NSW and QLD — where the heat and dry conditions were all consuming — this newfound subtropical environment is quite overwhelming!

The impact on our four year old is that he wants ice cream. Constantly.

Enter Nitrogenie.

We first encountered Nitrogenie as we strolled (read pushed) through Easter crowds on Hastings St, Noosa Heads. We spotted it a mile away, most likely a result of its cooler-than-cool marketing colours. But also because I saw liquid nitrogen clouds!

Even though the slogan is ‘Nitrogenie – ice cream from magic, the marketing genius is that it makes people feel like they are eating SCIENCE! A giant vat of liquid nitrogen is situated behind the counter, and staff access its contents every couple of minutes. During the making process, liquid nitrogen vapour oozes and wafts from food processors. All ice cream makers wear safety glasses.

Liquid nitrogen (N2), is a non-hazardous liquid, is extremely cold (it boils at −195.79 °C) and is stored under pressure. According to its MSDS, or scientific safety sheet, it can cause rapid suffocation in confined environments, and severe frostbite if it comes in contact with live tissue. But there are essentially no restrictions on using it. Just obtaining it.

It got me wondering about employees at such establishments: do they have to learn anything about liquid nitrogen, such as do a course in how to handle it safely? So I asked them. The answer was yes: staff complete an online safety course about chemicals and liquids in food preparation, then an in-store training course all about handling liquid nitrogen, clean-ups and other chemical aspects of the job.

They were pretty busy, so I couldn’t ask many more questions. But I would be very keen to know more. For example, would employees at Nitrogenie be more inclined to feel comfortable with the concept of elements, or chemicals, compared to a more general teen population? (the employees at the Noosa Nitrogenie were all young women). Do staff become more interested in how liquid nitrogen works once they complete the training? Do they wonder about other commercial applications of elements with particular properties?

And what about the customers: does this sort of venture make them more interested in the science in their life?

Maybe they are just happy enough to enjoy the ice cream. Which for the record, is sensational, especially the sticky date fudge toffee flavour…

[Sarah: Adelaide also has a liquid nitrogen ice-cream venue: see here for more details. I’m keen to try it!]

  1. It’s good that to date I’ve not heard nor read of any accidents in food establishments. I am aware of deaths and accidents in laboratory situations when gas storage has been suboptimal. Nitrogen forcing oxygen out of a closed container (room) is a concern. If I had a child working in such a place I may be over the top but I’d want oxygen sensors present and if the oxygen concentration fell suddenly I’d want fresh air replacement immediately into the environment. Then there is the problem of burns to the skin by accidental spills. I spent a good part of my final year of specialty training using liquid nitrogen to burn warts of patients’ genitalia, it is fantastic at burning flesh.

  2. LOL, thanks for the comment Gary!
    I’m trying to keep ice-cream and genital warts in separate parts of my brain argghh

    But I agree, your safety comments are valid. I wonder if they have minimum ventilation requirements in place? I remember one of the big worries in the research labs I used to work in was around our walk-in freezers and people entering with small cylinders of liquid nitrogen. Small room, sealed door, less than temperatures —> it could get ugly, quickly. There were many safety procedures in place.

  3. You asked the sort of questions I’ve often wondered about those places. Running a cryostorage facility that goes through hundreds of litres of LN2 per week, and seeing the safety precautions we have in place for staff, I’ve always been curious as to what sort of training the staff in the ice cream shops undergo. Great blog.

  4. Thanks stemgirl! It is good to know they are trained….and hopefully an emergency situation never arises.

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