Child is Severely Burned by Hot Coffee on Ferry Ride


Restaurant Expert WitnessThis case involves a young child who was severely burned on a ferry ride when hot coffee spilled on her. The coffee was placed on a booth table in front of the child, and the coffee was served at a temperature of 190 degrees at the time of the accident. The ferry came upon a patch of choppy water, which caused the coffee to spill on the child, resulting in serious burns. The child required a number of skin grafts for treatment, and also suffers from permanent disfigurement.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please describe your expertise/experience in the service of hot beverages.
  • 2. At what temperature should hot coffee be served?

Expert Witness Response E-008457

I am a coffee expert (i.e. brewing, holding, serving, consumer packaging, general consumer research regarding consumer needs and desires) particularly as it pertains to chain restaurants. I have worked for/managed three major coffee companies during my career. I have also been retained as an expert on many different hot coffee cases, as well as matters involving hot tea, hot cocoa, hot gravy and hot chili, many of those with children. In the chain restaurant industry, the standard for holding is 170-180 F for at least one major chain, and 180-190 F for many others. However, there is virtually always the caveat that if there is no coffee being held (i.e. the previous customer purchased the last few cups), the next cup served could have been brewed 5 seconds ago. Coffee should be brewed between 196 F and 205 degrees F to have an excellent cup of coffee. The protocol I use to address product issues with chains I’ve not worked with previously, independent restaurants, or other new scenarios would work well here. It would involve doing some background research to substantiate what competitors are doing, and reviewing the equipment used.

Expert Witness Response E-009291

There is a “debate” as to what temperature hot beverages such as coffee and tea should be served at. There are standard temperatures for brewing and holding coffee, both of which are high enough to cause significant burns and which are too hot to be able to drink the coffee. There is a conflict between the desired serving temperatures – the coffee industry uses a 1998 study that suggests that the correct temperature for serving coffee is between 139.6 F and 161.8 F. A 2008 study by independent researchers recommended a serving temperature of 136 F. All these temperatures are high enough to cause a scald to the skin. I have 40+ years experience in the hospitality industry as well as experience communicating with people as an educator.

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