The moment Barbara Kaufman took one sip from her cocktail brimming with wisps of icy white smoke, she doubled over in pain.
Minutes later, she was being rushed to Mount Sinai Medical Center, landing in intensive care.
Kaufman, 61, of Miami Beach, had ingested a cocktail laced with liquid nitrogen while attending a January fundraising event in Miami Beach.
As soon as Kaufman swallowed the cocktail, the pain was instantaneous. She said she had no idea that the drink was toxic.
“I had a horrible pain,” said Kaufman, who spent five days in the hospital and is still recovering. “I thought I was going to pass out.”
The toxic cocktail burned her insides, creating holes in her esophagus and stomach. As the liquid changed to a gas inside her body, it needed to expand. Doctors quickly rushed the grandmother of four into surgery.
The incident happened in January during the Taste of the Garden event at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden. A bartender from Haven lounge on Lincoln Road served her the cocktail, but did not tell her to wait until the liquid had evaporated, she said.
For added drama, some bartenders chill the cocktail glasses with the liquid nitrogen so that curls of white smoke appear when liquid is added. However, only a little is needed and it should evaporate before it is served. It should never be ingested in its liquid form.
Kaufman, who owns a wholesale jewelry business with her husband, is suing Miami Beach Botanical Garden, Haven Hospitality Concepts and Kryogenifex, the company who supplied the liquid nitrogen for the event.
Two employees from Haven volunteered at the event but no one from management was there to supervise, said Ben Arndt, Haven general manager.
“Haven discontinued the use of liquid nitrogen the day that this happened,” Arndt said. “We are very happy that she is all right.”
This is the second time Haven has been involved in an incident with liquid nitrogen in the past two years.
Vanessa Pomeranc, 39, of Aventura, had two drinks in 2012 at Haven Lounge. After her second cocktail, which included the smoky liquid nitrogen effect, Pomeranc said she fell to the floor, unable to catch her breath.
“I was having chest pain and discomfort,” she said.
Though Pomeranc did not suffer permanent damage, she filed a claim against Haven and eventually settled for a total of $15,000.
“There should be some minimum standards in the food industry,” said Kaufman’s lawyer, Marc L. Brumer. Kaufman “is lucky she didn’t die.”
In 2012, a British teenager had two shots infused with liquid nitrogen and had to have a portion of her stomach removed, according to The Telegraph. The same year, a guest at the Czar Ice Bar in Atlanta was taken to the hospital after drinking a liquid nitrogen chilled drink.
Theresa Eisenman, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration press officer, wrote in an email that liquid nitrogen, which has a temperature of -320 degress Fahrenheit, is not authorized for use in food by FDA regulations.
“Consuming liquid nitrogen can result in the freezing of skin tissue and possible organ damage,” she said.
Kaufman’s friend, Mercedes Carlson, 60, attended the Miami Beach Botanical Garden event and ordered a similar liquid nitrogen cocktail. When Carlson saw Kaufman in pain, she immediately spit out the drink, she said.
“I had smoke coming out of my eyes and nose,” she said. “All Barbara was saying was “Oh my God! Oh my God!’ ”
Mark D’ Alessandro, a visiting professor at Florida International University’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, uses liquid nitrogen in his Culinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship course.
But, he said, “If I was the owner of a restaurant, I would not want it in my bar. It’s a shame that people are not trained properly in how to use it. It’s so simple and so easy to use that it’s easy to also misuse.”
Even after leaving the hospital, Kaufman’s nightmare did not end. She now speaks with a raspy voice and follows a limited diet. She is still unsure of the long-term effects.
“I’m trying to resume a normal life but it has taken its toll,” she said.