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It's become common practice around my apartment to use a sterno to roast marshmallows because it's easy, cheap and (primarily) because we can't have a campfire in my living room.

Is this dangerous?

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Health questions are off-topic. Other than that - dangerous in what way? The potential to set your apartment on fire? –  Aaronut May 24 '12 at 0:49
    
Ha nope, just health-related. If it's off-topic, feel free to close it. Sorry about that! –  stevvve May 24 '12 at 0:51
    
I don't see this as "health" more like food safety. The question is not whether sterno will reverse hair loss or balance your life energy- it's whether the chemicals are toxic when burned. –  Sobachatina May 24 '12 at 15:42
    
@Sobachatina the first version of the question is explicitly health-related, you can see it in the history. –  rumtscho May 24 '12 at 16:45
    
@rumtscho- I did see that. It did use the word "health" but not in the sense that is off topic. If that kind of "health" was off topic then we would have to close all our "is this spoiled" yet questions because they are essentially asking if the food is unhealthy. If more discussion on this is necessary we should probably take it to meta. –  Sobachatina May 24 '12 at 18:33
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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Sterno is (roughly) alcohol mixed with gel. The same type of alcohol (ethanol mixed with enough methanol to make it poisonous) is commonly used in marine stoves because it's considered to be quite safe: it doesn't explode and it can be extinguished with water.

Alcohol also burns cleanly and quite completely, so there are essentially no methanol molecules in the flame that could land on your marshmallows and harm you.

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Sterno suggests this use in multiple ways. On their site they have a pdf recipe for smores "indoors" that instructs you to roast the marshmallows over a can of Sterno. They also manufacture a Smores-n-more set that is really just a ceramic pot with a grill that you place a can of Sterno in to keep people from getting too close to the open flame. My guess is that they wouldn't do this if it weren't safe as they be opening themselves up to a lawsuit.

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There are 2 types of Sternos out there. There IS a type that burns something harmful for open-flame-to-food cooking.

I believe it's an older way of making them though and that Sterno just makes the "safe" ones today.

Just wanted to put this out there though. I own a Sterno can that is probably over 7 years old and it says to not eat food that touches the flame, but the new ones say they are safe.

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