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Snow cream, snow cone, snow salt chococcino. Is snow safe to eat?

Reese Witherspoon's recent TikTok creating a snowy treat with cold brew and flavored syrups has resurrected the debate.
Child eating snow
Posted at 12:56 PM, Jan 21, 2024

Is it safe to eat snow? The burning question has been brought up for debate again after viral videos, mainly one from Reese Witherspoon, show people making recipes with it following a mass of winter storms across the U.S. 

Witherspoon posted a TikTok a few days ago capturing herself scooping snow from outside her home — most likely in Nashville — in big mugs then adding chocolate and salted caramel syrups and cold brew coffee to create what she named a “snow salt chococcino.” 

The video quickly garnered millions of views followed by thousands of comments. 

A good portion warned Witherspoon that snow is not safe to eat. Others commented they’ve always enjoyed a treat of snow cream (or snow ice cream), and, obviously, they are still here to tell the story. 

The traditional snow treat, which Southern Living magazine said could date back to 2700 BC, usually includes freshly fallen snow and sweetened condensed milk or evaporated milk, vanilla and sugar. Many have created variations over the years, adding coconut flakes or just using snow with flavored syrup for a classic snow cone concoction. 

While it is undoubtedly delicious, is it actually safe to consume? 

Most experts say, “yes, but not all snow.”

The National Snow and Ice Data Center said, the fresher the snow, the less contaminated it can be with things like algae, bacteria and pollution.

“As snow falls through the sky, it can lock in pollutants into its intricate latticework. The most common is black carbon from coal-fired plants and wood-burning stoves. In a sense, that is why it is better to wait until a few hours into the snowfall to eat your first batch,” the center said on its website. “Snow acts like a scrubbing brush as it falls through the atmosphere. So, the longer the snow falls, the cleaner the air, and also the snow.”

The National Children’s Hospital offers similar guidance in a blog poston their website, “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.”

An old wives' tale says you should wait for the third snow of the year before setting out a bowl to catch it for snow cream. But if you live somewhere like Witherspoon, where she said it rarely snows, you might not have that luxury.

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