CLEVELAND, Ohio – Now that snow has assumed its rightful place in the winter weather patterns of Northeast Ohio – a foot or more in the past week – we thought it was necessary to ask a very important question.
Is it safe to eat snow?
If you ask the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the answer is no.
“Ohio’s more than 4,500 public water systems work to ensure that surface and ground waters are treated to meet federal and state safe drinking water standards. We do not recommend human consumption of snow, rainwater, or any untreated surface water,” states the Ohio EPA’s emailed response.
Harrumph? We’re thinking that might be a little harsh.
We asked the same question of Dr. Ryan Marino, medical toxicologist with University Hospitals, who knows a lot about chemical exposures, and he had a slightly different answer.
While Marino doesn’t recommend eating snow, it’s something people are going to do, he said, and for the most part it should be harmless, especially in small amounts.
He does offer a few caveats.
“If you’re going to eat it,” he said, “I would say do it when it’s fresh.”
That means no plowed snow, no snow with ice-melting chemicals in it, and of course, no yellow snow.
But you also should let the snow fall for a while before scooping it up and into your mouth, he said. In other words, go for the top layers.
As Marino explains it, snow binds with pollutants and dust particles in the air, which is more of a concern in urban areas. So, after the snow has fallen for a while, the amount of bad stuff being drawn down with it will diminish.
Thekitchn.com, an Internet-based food magazine, offers the same warning about eating snow too early after it has fallen as it can become contaminated by pollutants in the air and on the ground.
“Freshly fallen snow sounds clean, but the first few flurries are actually not the ones you want to eat! That’s because they act as a purifier for pollutants, both in the air and the ground,” states thekitchn.com on its website.
“Your safest bet? Collect snow for eating after it has been snowing for an hour or two — and avoid eating snow on super-windy days,” according to thekitchn.com. The website also recommends collecting snow in a bowl as further protection against contaminants.
The website goes on to say that even if you take these precautions, snow is going to contain some level of pollutants.
“The good news is that most snow research indicates that snow is still safe to eat in moderation,” according to thekitchn.com. “Our very favorite way to do so? Snow ice cream, of course.”