City Desk

The Dangers of Cup Noodles and Other Instant Soups

This study of which instant soups are more prone to tip over (and pour scalding liquid and hot noodles all over an unsuspecting toddler) is pretty scary, especially considering how frequently it happens in D.C.:

Through calls to a dozen burn units at hospitals across the country, we learned that this is a common phenomenon, with children being the most frequent victims. Eight of the 12 hospitals said they see the injury several times a week. One hospital located in Washington D.C. says they regularly see 5-6 patients a week with the injury, especially during the colder months.

Noodle soup is strangely perfect for delivering a serious burn. The sticky noodles cling to the skin, which leads to deeper, more severe burns, according to a study published in 2007. The study showed that hospital stays for upper body noodle-soup burns are more than twice as long as scalds from hot liquids alone. Garner says that about one in five children he sees with the burns end up needing surgery, and these patients can face permanent scarring and limited mobility in their joints.

A surgical resident friend of mine agrees that the burns are common: "We had them so frequently at Children's Hospital. I will never have [instant noodles] in the house."

But for a lot of people, a cup of instant noodles is a hot, filling meal that's also cheap, shelf-stable, and convenient. NPR points out that here is a case where design might make a big difference. The "tippiest" brand is the cheapest: Nissin's Cup Noodles. One scientist argues that a cheap and easy fix would be to invert the cup, making the opening the narrowest part. Naturally, though, none of the soup companies responded to requests for comment.

Photo by Matsuyuki via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License

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  • Tim

    They could also just make the containers wider and shorter, but then they wouldn't really be "cups" of soup.

  • Ally Schweitzer

    Tim raises a valid point.

  • er

    i'm not a parent, so maybe not too smart about these things but can't people just wait for them to cool a bit before serving to kids?
    or at least put it in a coffee mug so it's not steeping in a dioxin laden plastic?

  • Mrs. D

    This is why I always turn down the cup of noodles on flights to Asia...turbulence + boiling water with PAPER over it = disaster. At home, ramen in a bowl (or coffee mug), let to stand until not scalding seems like a better, and even cheaper, idea. Even better, homemade chicken noodle soup. Egg noodles, cheapest chicken (or turkey, if it happens to be on sale) you can find, broth, water, carrots, celery, basil, parsley, pepper (and garlic if you're me)...can't be more than $.50/serving and takes, like, 30 minutes to make a batch that will last a week, or you can do it in a slow cooker - set it and forget it - just add the noodles when you get home and soup's on in 15. For a heartier version, use "turkey noodles," available frozen at Aldi (only place I've found them around here) for a buck a bag (6 servings/bag, maybe more if you add lots of veggies or chicken). *Things I learned being a poor college student.*

  • drez

    The recommendation from the team that did the study was that Nissan invert the container- make the top (which is wide) be the bottom (which is narrow). They calculated that would make the product about 70% less likely to tip.

    The manufacturer seems hesitant- based perhaps on brand recognition and retooling costs.