There is a reason that a lot of people out there opt out of snacking on fast food. For one thing, it isn’t very healthy. Not only is most of it deep fried and high in fats, but the majority of it is also loaded with unnecessary preservatives in order to give it a much longer shelf life.
Nevertheless, cost and convenience often sway even the most fervent of McDonald’s deniers. They also happen to make a pretty good cup of coffee. It’s a sentiment that many readers will agree with…at least until they read what happened to Canadian mom Sarah Douglas…
Sarah Douglas had just finished driving her son to a baseball tournament when she decided that she needed a cup of coffee. Considering she was pregnant and considering that she’d been driving around Lethbridge, Alberta all day, she figured she’d earned herself a latte at least. So she pulled into McDonald’s and place her order.
Sarah paid and pulled away. The latte was too hot to drink at first and she recalled the story of another Stella Liebeck vs. McDonald’s; one of the most frivolous lawsuits in history. Still, better to be safe than sorry. Little did she know that she was about to embark upon a similar, though slightly more dangerous journey as Stella Liebeck…
When it had cooled a bit, she took a sip and noticed that the coffee tasted off somehow. She moved the drink around in her mouth and felt a burning sensation. This sensation had nothing to do with the temperature, but with some other as yet unknown aspect of the caffeinated beverage.
A moment later and Sarah’s tongue began to feel numb almost fuzzy. She wondered if perhaps the coffee had been sitting out too long. Perhaps they’d forgotten to change the pot overnight. The odd numb/burning sensation continued and Sarah began to feel sick. She put on her hazards and pulled over…
Sarah pulled to the side of the road, picked up her water bottle, and proceeded to rinse her mouth out profusely. When she was done, she took the lid off the coffee cup and took a whiff of the steaming liquid. She could smell a chemical odor coming off it. It didn’t smell good, it smelled dangerous.
Considering that Sarah was 32 weeks pregnant with her third child at the time, she was understandably worried. She was also angry, she wondered how in the world a reputable chain like McDonald’s, a place where she had gotten many cups of coffee over the years, could have given her something dangerous. She turned around and drove back to the restaurant…
Speak to the Manager
Sarah returned to the restaurant and demanded to speak to a manager. As there was no manager available, the cashier could only send a supervisor out to talk to her. The supervisor, unprepared to deal with this particular complaint, smelled the coffee and realizing something was wrong, offered to give her a free replacement coffee.
Considering that she might have just drunk something toxic, Sarah felt a bit insulted that the supervisor would offer only a tacit apology and a complimentary coffee for her troubles. Before she could complain further, another employee piped up and told Sarah and the supervisor that they might know what caused the odd taste, and it wasn’t good…
The employee had noticed that the cleaning fluid lines were still attached to the coffee machine. Normally, the coffee machine is cleaned daily by attaching hoses full of cleaning fluid to the machine. The machine is then flushed and the cleaning fluid line is replaced with the milk supply line.
This routine of hooking and unhooking lines is part of the restaurant’s daily maintenance which takes place every morning and evening. In general, it seems like the most efficient way to do things; until someone forgets that the cleaning fluid is going in as the milk in someone’s coffee. Sarah, understandably worried, asked to see the bottle.
The employee brought over the bottle of the fluid so that she could see what exactly she was drinking. She took a picture of the label and waited for the poison control agent to pick up. Sarah read off the label. It included such warnings as “causes serious eye irritation,” “may cause an allergic skin reaction,” and most disturbingly, “Keep out of reach of children.”
The bottle of chemicals also warned anyone who used it to wear protective gloves and eye protection. Considering that what was in her cup wasn’t coffee but cleaning solution, and thinking about the effect this type of chemical might have on her unborn child, it seemed prudent to contact poison control…
The phone rang and Sarah was again reminded of the case of a 79-year-old Stella Liebeck, who sued McDonald’s after suffering third-degree burns in her pelvic region when she accidentally spilled their hot coffee in her lap. She had been hospitalized for eight days and underwent two years of medical treatment because of it. She wondered what might happen to her.
Poison control told Sarah that she should be ok but that she should monitor her symptoms. If she developed any shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, or if she had any trouble swallowing, she should go to the hospital immediately. Sarah hung up and asked for the manager’s contact information. She still had a bone to pick with them…
Looking for Answers
Erring on the side of caution, Sarah went to see her doctor soon after the accidental poisoning. Thankfully, she suffered no further symptoms as a result of the coffee. Her baby was unharmed as well. Now though, she wants answers as to what happened and change to be enacted at the local restaurant.
“My fear is that a child could have been a victim to such a preventable mistake,” Sarah explained in a recent interview. “I’m just glad it has come to this so that we can make people aware and, hopefully, make a change for the better…” The McDonald’s owner, Dan Brown responded with a public apology…
Dan Brown apologized for the mishap and explained the situation in more detail. He reiterated that the daily cleaning has always gone smoothly. “Since learning about the complaint, our team has been in very close contact with the guest and apologized to her,” Brown told PEOPLE magazine.
“The health inspector also visited my restaurant and is not investigating further,” Brown added. “McDonald’s has always been renowned for its food safety protocols and I am sorry that this happened in my restaurant here in Lethbridge.” They are also reviewing their current cleaning procedures…
Brown added that “We have taken immediate action to review the proper cleaning procedures with the team and have put additional signage up as an added reminder.” Frankly, it could have been worse for everyone involved. It may yet if she decides to sue. After all, Stella Liebeck won $640,000 for her coffee troubles.
Money to be Made
In Liebeck’s case, her attorneys claimed that it was too hot, far hotter than any coffee need be. McDonald’s refused several opportunities to settle and eventually paid the price when the jury decided the chain would not only pay Liebeck her settlement but also fit the bill for her medical expenses. See Sarah’s ordeal unfold in the video below…