Is it Safe to Eat Snow?

Yesterday we did our “clean snow” experiment, but I got the idea several years ago when I researched the subject for a newsletter article for A Magical Childhood.  I thought the original article might be helpful so I dug it up…

Is it safe to eat snow?

For years, I’ve been hearing contradictory advice about whether or not it’s safe for kids to eat snow.  Some folks say that it contains pollutants from the atmosphere, while others say as long as it’s fresh it’s fine.  Since I live in an area with a lot of the white stuff and my kids like concoctions like snow cones and snow ice cream, I did a little research.

I found quite a few laypersons talking about not eating snow because of pollutants, but many sites run by experts said the risk was negligible and that as long as it’s small amounts it should be fine.  Obviously, snow in the city will be more contaminated than snow in rural areas.  However, chemicals and pollution travel great distances to end up in snow and rainwater in very rural parts of the world.

One clever teacher had her kids collect snow in two different glasses– one from snow falling and one from clean looking snow scooped off the ground.  She found that once the snow melted, the kids were able to see many particles in the water.  She also reminded the students that some contaminants are too small to see.  Another teacher had her kids melt the snow and pour it through a coffee filter to see how dirty it got from the “white” snow.  These would be great experiments to duplicate at home!

The Canadian Food Safety Institute advises against letting kids eat snow, saying it is “a potential source of heavy metals, toxins, bacteria and viruses,” particularly in urban areas.  The American FDA warns not to let kids eat snow or icicles in older neighborhoods where houses may have been painted with lead based paint.  Also, keep in mind that manufactured snow at resorts and ski facilities may be made from reclaimed water and is not safe to eat.

So what’s the verdict?  Most experts agree that snow in “wilderness areas” is safe to eat in moderate quantities.  The largest dangers seem to be in urban areas, particularly where lead and other toxins may contaminate it.  In the end, even the experts disagree and it’s one more area where you just have to use your best judgment.

For more information, see these sites:

The O’Mama Report talks about pesticides and how far toxins can travel.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center has tons of great information about snow and they say it’s safe to eat except in very polluted urban areas (they say lots more, too, this would be a great page for a unit study on snow!). 

And BYU’s Newsnet says it’s a myth that you can’t eat snow, except in very polluted areas.

If you decide your snow is safe for munching, here’s a few snow recipes to try with the kids.

Snow Ice Cream~  Mix together 1/2 cup of whipping cream or cream of choice, 1 TBS sugar and 2-3 drops vanilla.  Slowly stir in 1-3 cups of clean snow, a little at a time, till it’s the right consistency.  You can adjust ingredients to suit your taste and experiment with flavors like cinnamon, butterscotch, lemon extract and eggnog.

Fruity Snow Cones~  Scoop clean snow into cups.  Drizzle with melted fruit juice concentrate.

And if you want to skip eating it but have some fun playing in it, here’s a few other ways to enjoy snow…

Fill spray bottles with water and food coloring and make spray art on the snow.

Use loaf pans as molds to make snow bricks and make a quick and easy fort.

Forget snowmen — make snow beasts!  Challenge the kids to make up supernatural creatures, aliens, animals and other goofy critters.

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2 thoughts on “Is it Safe to Eat Snow?

  1. Ilove this story this is the best i’ve heard i am at tha age of 11 i just turned 11 on december 28,2009 i am doing a project on ”Is snow safe to eat?”my teacher pointed this out and i started reading this and i couldn’t stop when we had to leave the computer lab i got mad and didn’t want to shut down the computer because is was so AMAZING thanks for writing it.It really helped me out on my science fair projet yours truly, Victe’Aria Nixon!!!!!!!!!!!

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  2. Great advice! We make snow cream with sweetened condensed milk. In our family’s opinion (several generations of snow cream eaters) there is no better “cream” to add. We usually have several people to make it for so we usually fill a large Tupperware cake saver lid with snow and start with a cup or more of sugar to start with. I have no idea how much vanilla since I mainly do it my eye now. Give it a try!

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