Woman Sues Dunkin' Donuts Over Hot Cider; A Look Behind Beverage Suit Tsunami

The popular belief that the fast food industry, in response to the 1994 McDonalds suit, has reduced the temperature of its hot beverages is wrong, Cox said.

The reason is that there are minimum and maximum temperature ranges necessary to extract the flavor of coffee beans or tea leaves or cocoa, and to deliver to the customer the taste they expect, he said.

All of these "are well above the threshold for burning," he said.

He offers this comparison: The temperature of very hot bathtub water would be 105 degrees. A steaming hot shower would be 120. Brewed coffee is 195 to 205 degrees; the temperature at which it's held by a restaurant is 180; and it typically is served at 165 to 180 degrees. All major retailers, he says, adhere to these temperatures.

If served coffee is 60 degrees hotter than a steaming shower, he asks, how do customers tolerate it? They take tentative sips, add cream or milk, or wait until it cools.

"Somebody spills it on himself and says it was too hot," he said. "But it has to be that hot in order for the flavor to work."

Other factors besides temperature determine whether the spilled liquid will result in a burn, he said. These include how long the hot liquid stays on the skin, and the age, sex or physical circumstances of the spill victim.

If the victim is able to remove their soaked clothing immediately, to splash cold water on their skin and to apply a topical cream, he says, they may not receive a lasting burn.

If, however, they're driving and trapped in a car seatbelt, unable to pull over to the side of the road and disrobe, then the hot liquid can cause a lasting burn.

Women, Cox said, tend to be less willing to disrobe in public than men are.

"That's what happened to poor Ms. Liebeck," he said.

Some fast food chains have taken steps to reduce the likelihood of customers being burned, he said. Some McDonalds, he said, have added machines that help secure the lid: the coffee cup is put into the device, and a piston seals the lid tightly.

Dunkin' Donuts' staff, he said, have been trained not to hand customers unlidded cups of coffee: customers are handed their cup only after a staff member has secured the lid.

Which coffee has the most caffeine?

The number one thing the fast food industry should do is buy "really good cups and lids," he said. The problem is cost: When you're buying cups and lids by the tens of millions, a penny's difference adds up, he said.

He points to Australian lid-maker Smart Lid, which six months ago started selling (so far only in Australia) a lid that changes color to reflect the temperature of what's inside the cup. If what's inside is too hot to be safe, the lid turns red.

Anthony Bayss, Smart Lid's director, tells ABC News the product sells for about four cents each, or about half a cent to one cent more the cost of conventional white lids.

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