A recent report from National Public Radio freelance reporter Mara Zepeda (formerly of WHYY in Philadelphia) draws attention to a very serious, yet little known public health hazard—instant soup spills causing severe burns in young children.
According to several academic papers (here and here), hot soups, especially those prepackaged in foam cups, are one of the leading causes of burns in kids. The reason: the lightweight foam and top-heavy design of the cups are unstable and can easily tip over. Injuries occur when younger children pull the cups onto themselves. According to another study, because “the cooling curve of noodle soup is much slower, noodle soup may present a greater danger to children than other types of soup.” The noodles, sticky and hot, adhere to a victim’s skin leading to more severe burns.
In her report, Zepeda said she called a dozen burn units around the United States, and found that eight of them see soup injuries several times a week.
Scald burns among kids are twice as common as other types of burns in this country. In one study, soup scald burns accounted for 8% of total inpatient burn admissions and “tend to involve important functional areas, such as the hand and face.” This study also found that “injuries tend to occur in low-income and low-educational level households with multiple children when the soup is heated in tall, narrow containers.” This statistic shouldn’t be a surprise—in these hard economic times, instant soups are cheap and convenient, and an easy option for a busy family.
But there is an apparently easy solution: a simple redesign of the packaging of the top-heavy instant soup cups could reduce these accidents significantly. By changing the cup design, from narrow and tall to wide and flat, the companies could easily help decrease the incidence of “tip-over” burns. There already are cups on the market that are wider and flatter, and have a much higher tipping angle (see figure above). This design, combined with an educational program highlighting the hazards of soups burns, could help redress the social and structural components of soup burns in young kids.
As part of her story, NPR reporter Zepeda reached out to the manufacturers of some of the “tippiest” cups of soups from the academic studies. Sadly, she reports that “every company declined to comment or failed to get back” to her. But her story might have prompted legal action—a law firm is currently investigating the soup cups’ dangerous design.
If you share these concerns, or if you know a child who was injured and want to see the “tippiest cups” resdesigned, please post a comment to this blog or send an email to email@example.com. Once we’ve compiled a list of your concerns, we can send them to the offending companies.
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