One of the only things better than waking up to find the outdoors covered with a beautiful blanket of new-fallen snow is getting to go out and play in the white fluffy stuff. Sometimes it looks good enough to eat! But is that safe? And what if it’s not so white?
Is It Safe to Eat Snow?
The short answer is yes. But probably not all snow. And, like most good things, moderation is best. Whether you’re going to catch a few flakes on your tongue, or scoop up enough to make some homemade snow cream (you can find recipes on the internet), there are some important guidelines to help you know your snow.
Is It Safe to Eat Falling Snow?
As snow is falling, it can collect small but measurable amounts of chemical contaminants from the air. This is more of a concern in densely industrial regions and areas with significant air pollution. On very windy days, more of these contaminants are dispersed within the falling snow. That first, lovely looking snowfall is not the safest choice for tasting, as it’s absorbing and clearing pollutants from the air and on the ground where it lands. Fallen snow that is or has been in direct contact with the ground can mix with dirt, animal waste, fertilizer, pesticides and other potential toxins. Snow that has been plowed, even if it appears clean and white, is not safe to eat.
What About Yellow Snow?
Many of our mothers have warned us about it. Yellow snow can get its color from urine, so it’s best to avoid eating yellow snow. Snow can also turn yellow from contact with pigments from fallen leaves, pollen, dust, sand, and air pollution. Exposure to various natural elements, growths of algae or bacteria, and contact with assorted pollutants can turn snow a variety of shades of red, green, orange, brown or grey-black.
When Is It Safe to Eat Snow That’s Already Fallen?
The safest snow to consume will be the whitest, fluffiest top layer of fallen snow, furthest away from the ground. For a bigger serving of snow, safely harvested, place a clean bowl on your picnic table, deck, or similar outside structure. (Choose areas that are less likely to be disturbed by backyard critters or exposed to bird droppings). With a decent snowfall, you’ll be able to collect snow that is free of dirt and debris, and likely cleaner than snow on the ground. Even though the snow you eat will likely have trace amounts of pollutants from the atmosphere, so does the air we breathe, and research indicates that snow is still safe to eat in moderation.
Bottom line: for safest consumption of snow, choose later-fallen or falling snow, on less windy days, that is white (no colors please!), never plowed snow or snow in direct contact with the ground.
Laura T. Martin, MD, is an assistant professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Her clinical interests include general pediatric hematology/oncology, cancer survivorship and palliative care. Her research interests include the role of glycans in solid tumor and lymphocyte biology.
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