Foodservice Equipment Reports

How Hot Is Too Hot?

In a story that has echoes of the 1994 Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants case, a Canadian woman who was scalded by a cup of tea from Tim Hortons is demanding new regulations for how hot beverages should be served at restaurants.

The Winnipeg resident says she suffered second- and third-degree burns after an extra-large cup of green tea spilled on her lap following a minor traffic accident in February. The lidded cup was in a cup holder and she was in the passenger seat when the accident occurred after the driver pulled out of a Tim Hortons drive-through.

There are currently no regulations governing the temperatures of hot beverages at restaurants. The victim has not filed a lawsuit against Tim Hortons, but says she wants to see governments develop safe beverage temperature rules.

In an informal poll conducted by CBC News, a resounding 87% of respondents said that the Canadian government should not legislate the temperatures of hot beverages sold at restaurants.

According to the U.S.-based Burn Foundation, water heated to 156˚F/69˚C is hot enough to cause a third-degree burn in 1 sec. The average cup of hot coffee sold at a quick-service restaurant ranges from 165˚F/74˚C to 188˚F/87˚C.

The Liebeck case, also known as “the hot coffee lawsuit,” remains a touchstone in the debate in over tort reform in the United States. A jury in New Mexico awarded $2.86 million to the plaintiff, Stella Liebeck, who had suffered third-degree burns in her pelvic region when she accidentally spilled hot coffee in her lap after purchasing it from a McDonald's restaurant.

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