Studies have shown 158-degree water can cause third-degree burns with children after just one second because their skin is thinner than an adult's. File picture: Pixabay
Woodbridge, Virginia -  The temperature of a hot chocolate at 7-Eleven convenience stores is 171 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to cause third-degree burns on human skin in just one second. Why, you might wonder, is this information relevant to you?

Because somewhere in northern Virginia, there are two carjacking suspects with possible third-degree burns on their faces, hands or other parts of their bodies.

On Saturday at a 7-Eleven store in Woodbridge, Virginia, a 50-year-old woman was returning to her car when she was approached by two strangers. One was brandishing a gun. They wanted her car, according to an incident report from the Prince William County, Virginia, Police Department.

They got hot chocolate in the face instead.

Actually, it is not clear where the piping hot chocolate landed on the would-be carjackers. The police report only notes the woman's 22-year-old daughter walked out of the convenience store, hot chocolate in hand, and flung the drink at the suspects. They immediately fled on foot, clearly understanding the dangers of hot cocoa. (The gunman was dressed, it should be noted, in a black winter coat with fur trim on the hood while the other wore "dark-colored clothing and red gloves," which would indicate the suspects had few areas of exposed skin.)

Then again, the suspects could have been scared off by the mother, too: She, according to the report, struck the gunman with her bag.

The police say there were no injuries or stolen property. The suspects apparently remain at large. The Prince William County Police Department did not immediately return a call for updates.

A test of the actual temperature of 7-Eleven hot chocolate, at a College Park, Maryland, location registered 171 degrees moments after the hot chocolate had been spit out of the machine. The 7-Eleven in Woodbridge uses the same Bunn dispenser, according to a manager on site, so presumably the drink temperatures would be comparable.

So, how dangerous is a 170-degree beverage? According to Jeffrey Shupp, director of the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, studies have shown 158-degree water can cause third-degree burns with children after just one second because their skin is thinner than an adult's. Serious, third-degree burns can occur at even lower temperatures, for both kids and adults, if a liquid contains something fatty, like the milk and chocolate in a hot chocolate, Shupp says. The skin apparently absorbs fattier liquids faster than it does water.

Two other factors, Shupp adds, can determine a burn's severity: Where the hot liquid pools on the body and the duration of the contact. Clothing, for instance, can channel the hot liquid away from the initial contact area and cause worse burns somewhere else on the body. Right now, Shupp says, he has patients at the hospital suffering from third-degree burns from hot liquids. He mentioned one person who spilled a hot beverage, and the liquid collected near the person's feet for several seconds before the patient could remove both shoes and socks.

In the worse-case scenarios, most third-degree burns from liquids will require skin grafting and hospital stays, the doctor says.

Is it any wonder then that hot beverages have been used as a weapon? Last year, a thief near Atlanta dumped coffee on an armored truck courier and then made off with a bag full of cash. The same year, a woman faced a criminal weapons charge after she poured hot coffee on a neighbor during an argument at an apartment complex. Then there was a man in Alabama: He was sentenced to 198 years in prison for a pair of armed robberies, in which his weapon of choice was coffee. (He apparently learned the coffee-as-weapon technique during an earlier stint in prison.)

Perhaps it does not need to be said, but here goes anyway: One way to stop a bad guy with a coffee is to have a good guy with a coffee in your corner.

The Washington Post