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Food & The Law

Instant Noodles's Tipsy Packaging Causes Burns

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Tue, Dec 6, 2011 at 3:21 PM

click to enlarge Cup Noodles' lightweight packaging makes it prone to spilling - [PUAMELIA]/FLICKR
One of the many reasons why hospital emergency rooms are overflowing with patients? Instant cups of noodles. NPR reports that a good number of hospital intakes each week are victims who burn themselves with the scalding, but well-seasoned, hot water that cooks the instant noodles. In what inevitably will be fodder for products liability lawyers everywhere, doctors interviewed for the story look past user stupidity error and attribute the burns directly to an inherent defect in the cup's design.

According to the article, "The cups are tall, lightweight, and have an unstable base that makes them tip over easily." Dr. Warren Garner, director of USC's County Hospital burn unit, says that as a result of the cup's size and shape, toddlers often tip the cup on themselves. He does not, we note, volunteer an expert opinion about why toddlers are handling hot liquids in the first place.

The story also cites this fascinating study of the design flaws of instant noodle soup packaging. In what must have been a very exciting day at the office, various instant noodle brands were gathered and tipped over, one by one, to determine at which precise angle the products toppled and spilled. Nissin Foods, which manufactures the ever popular Cup Noodles, was one of the most tipsy, falling over at just 21.2 degrees. Contrast that with the the bowl-shaped Nicecook brand, which fell over only when push came to shove at almost 64 degrees.

Given these tipping points, the researchers concluded that the problem lies in the design of the packaging itself. Specifically, "Instant soups are packaged in containers that tend to be tall with a narrow base that predisposes them to being knocked over and spilled." Thus, even though Cup Noodles, like most instant noodle brands, have labels warning college students, bachelors and other consumers that the water will be very hot after a spin in the microwave, it doesn't help that the cup arguably is unreasonably prone to spilling and causing injury.

The lead researcher in the study, Dr. David Greenhalgh, proposes a very simple remedy. "Flip it over," he says, meaning, simply invert the cup so that the cup can rest on the wide end as consumers eat the hot noodles out of the narrower side. If manufacturers did so, Dr. Greenhalgh estimates that the cups would be nearly three times less likely to spill over.

Unfortunately, Nissin didn't return NPR's calls for comments. But, we can guess these cases probably didn't make it into Nissin's Cup Noodles Museum, which just opened in Japan in September. Nor is tipping Cup Noodles part of the museum's interactive instant noodle-making workshop. If only.

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