Blog, Commentary

On Coffee Warning Labels, Which No One Has Ever Talked About Before Ever

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So this image has been going around Tumblr for a while. I didn’t pay much attention to it other than to chuckle at the snark, until this angry response started popping up on my dashboard:

A few things you need to know about this hot coffee case:

  1. It wasn’t an issue of the coffee being because no fucking shit coffee is hot, but McDonald’s had over heated their water to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s 121C. Not just hot, but really FUCKING hot. Your fancy Starbucks lattes are brewed to 150 degrees.
  2. The 79 year old woman had this cup of 250F (121C) coffee between her legs when it spilled so 250F (121C) coffee spilled on her genitals
  3. She got third degree burns…on her genitals. THIRD DEGREE.
  4. She had to have skin grafts to repair the damage
  5. When she sued McDonald’s, it wasn’t for millions of dollars, it was for $20,000 to cover hospital costs and court fees. 20-fucking-thousand.
  6. It was the courts that awarded her the amount of money she got. Again, she only wanted hospital bills and court costs
  7. McDonald’s changed their heating policy, but not before making her sign a gag order keeping her from talking about this case
  8. So she had to live on hearing little shits like you call her stupid and money-grubbing, and other horrendous stuff because she dared ask the company in the wrong to fix what they fucked up.

I know I’ve reblogged this before tonight but so help me god, I will keep reblogging this with the proper information so everyone can maybe learn not to be an asshole. Like I said before, next person to mock this woman can have 250F (121C) water poured on their dick or lady dick and see how you like it.

So sit the fuck down, Canada.

Which, okay, to be fair, you don’t tell Canada to sit the fuck down without incurring my anger. But I had actual, legitimate problems with this post, and like in the Cho Chang issue, decided to get involved against my better judgment.

Tumblr, I love you, and I am anything but a McDonald’s apologist (I even agree with most of the substantive points here), but can I fucking point out that 121C / 250F is above the boiling point of water?! It is actually kind of impossible for water to go that high in our atmospheric pressure. If the coffee had actually been 250F, it would have been bubbling and frothing as it was being handed over about 18,000 feet below sea level.

The actual numbers are 82C / 180F in the coffee. Aeropress recommends 165-175F for brewing coffee, but the National Coffee Association says 195-205F. In other words: it is totally subjective. McD’s coffee was scaldingly hot, but it’s also not like McDonald’s was such a rebel in their coffee making that they used water with unheard-of temperatures in order to flout health and safety standards.

I did a presentation on Stella Liebeck in 7th grade, shortly after the incident happened. I followed a mailing list about her for months. This sort of stuff is close to my heart. It totally, totally sucks that Stella Liebeck got injured. She was well within her rights to try to recoup damages for medical treatment from McDonald’s. I’m not even saying that McDonald’s didn’t behave like a total asshole during the litigation. They should have just paid the fucking medical bills and issued an apology and gone on with things.

But a warning label on coffee telling you that it’s “hot” isn’t what’s going to protect the Stella Liebecks of the world from being scalded. That’s a legalistic CYA for McDonald’s, not any sort of protective measure for the consumer. All that will happen now is that when someone else gets scalded by McDonald’s coffee, they’ll be able to say “sorry, we warned you, you used our product in a way that we clearly told you not to”.

What would be a protective measure for the consumer is proper industry regulation – including, for example, how hot water is allowed to be in open containers before it’s being delivered to consumers. You shouldn’t have to sue private companies in order to have business regulations protect the interests of individuals. Yet that is exactly what happens.

At the same time, we also need to recognize that we can’t protect against everything in life, and that if something goes wrong, there won’t always be someone to point a finger at. Think about the massive cost of malpractice insurance and lawsuits. There are a lot of awful doctors who need to be held accountable for their actions, but there are also a lot of really great doctors who are absolutely terrified that they will be held responsible for the outcomes of procedures that were never perfect, and never expected be perfect, to begin with.

That is what we’re mocking, when we talk about a litigious society. Not Stella Liebeck personally, but the confluence of a deluded just-world fallacy combined with a pseudo-libertarian free-for-all in which government interference on behalf of its people is seen as overreach.

And that, unfortunately, is not so easily fixed with a warning label.

Be outraged at the things that are wrong with the world! But be outraged accurately.

(Originally posted on my Tumblr.)

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