Excessive consumption of slush ice drinks over a short time period has been linked to two children falling sick in Scotland.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) said it was aware of two children, in Edinburgh in 2022 and Lanarkshire in 2021, who became unwell after having slush ice drinks. Both required hospitalization and had symptoms consistent with glycerol intoxication. One of the youngsters consumed three slushies in a limited time.

Glycerol is an ingredient in slush ice drinks to prevent the liquid from freezing solid. It is allowed as an additive and there are no limits. Manufacturers can add as much of it as needed to achieve the desired technological function. The level of glycerol in slush ice drinks varies depending on the manufacturer and the product.

FSS has been looking into the incident with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Public Health Scotland, NHS Health Protection Teams, and local authorities.

Stuart McAdam, head of incidents at Food Standards Scotland, said: “Although glycerol is generally of low toxicity, there are concerns about the effect on young children when large quantities are consumed over a short period of time.

“We are working with UK trade associations that represent the soft drinks industry and a wide variety of stakeholders to better understand the levels of glycerol used across the sector.”

Unlimited refills and self-serve options
One concern is unlimited refills at theme and activity parks. The FSA said it was also aware of a growing number of self-serve options at retail shops, convenience stores, and newsagents. A particular problem is refill offers are often unmonitored. There is no legislation limiting the availability of self-service refills.

Consumption of more than one drink or large volumes in short time periods, may cause significant adverse health effects in young children, said the agency.

The advice is that children, especially those under the age of 3, should not drink more than one of these types of drinks within an hour.

Young children having one 350 mL slush ice drink could potentially suffer headaches, nausea, or vomiting. Consumption of more than one drink in a short time period could lead to more severe effects.

A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) opinion in 2017 concluded that infants could be exposed to high enough levels to cause side effects by drinking less than one 330 mL can of a flavored drink.

Awareness of the potential risk of glycerol intoxication in children when consuming slush drinks has been raised with food businesses and local authorities. FSA has provided advice and shared a risk assessment on the additive with industry and local authorities. Work on risk management is ongoing.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here)