They’r e cheap, salty and, for many college students, a daily diet staple.
But instant noodles are more dangerous than their inviting plastic-foam containers might suggest. In fact, it’s the container that’s the problem.
“They get a lot hotter than people expect them to and are prone to tipping over,” said Dr. David Greenhalgh, chief of burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children-Northern California.
At least once a week, but often more frequently, Greenhalgh said, his hospital treats a child who has reached up to a counter and been burned by spilling instant noodles or instant soup. Often the child is burned on the head.
With a small base and wide top, many of the containers are constructed in a way that make them especially prone to tipping over, Greenhalgh said.
In 2007, he undertook a study of which soup and instant noodle containers are the most apt to spill.
The study — “Instant Cup of Soup: Design Flaws Increase Risk of Burns” — was published in the Journalof Burn Care and Research. It found that some containers spill at the slightest tip, with the most wobbly falling at an angle of just 17.5 degrees.
One of the most popular varieties, Cup Noodles by Nissin, is among the most likely to tip over, falling at just 22 degrees.
“The frequency of spills is directly correlated to how tall and how wide they are,” Greenhalgh said.
Ohio’s hospitals report fewer of the mishaps than the California hospital.
“We see it randomly, definitely not multiple times a week,” said Shelia Giles, burn program coordinator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus.
“It usually happens when a toddler pulls it over on themselves or a school-age child spills it on their lap,” she said.
Parents need to keep children out of the kitchen and double-check the temperature of any food given to kids, Giles said. Children’s skin is more thin, she said, so they are more likely to be seriously burned.
“We’ve seen noodle burns in the past,” said Vic Gideon, a spokesman for Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. “It happens every once in a while, but I’m not sure that we’ve had a case in the last year.”
The Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati sees noodle-related burns a little more often, but still less frequently then the hospitals cited by Greenhalgh.
“We see our fair share of soup and noodle injuries,” said Louise Holker, spokeswoman for the Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati. “But I’d put it at four or five times per month.”
She said, though, that the hospital doesn’t always distinguish between instant soup and noodle burns and any other kitchen burns.
But no matter what the danger — from stove tops to rice cookers to instant soups and noodles — the most important thing is to supervise children.
“We’ve been seeing children with skull burns from kitchens since long before these products came out,” Holker said.