WASHINGTON – Instant soup – often sold as "ramen" in the United States – is cheap, tasty and wildly popular among hungry college students. But new research suggests that the products may put young children at risk.
The soups cause about one in five childhood scald burns, according to research Monday to the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference. These findings have been made in microwavable cups.
"It's important for us to remember, and for parents to remember, that these are just thin containers with boiling water in them," Dr. Courtney Allen, a pediatric emergency fellow at Emory University who led the research.
"I think there's an assumption that these are safer than soups coming out of a stove," she said, "when, in fact, they're not."
Thousands of burns every year
Allen's research team has looked at more than 4,500 pediatric scald burns at nearly 11-year intervals in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, a federal database that tracks consumer product-related injuries. They then scoured the data, which were considered to be "instant soup," "instant noodles," and "cup of soup."
The researchers found 972 injuries associated with microwaving the products, making 21.5% of all scald burns in their sample. They are estimated to be nearly 10,000 pediatric burns in the United States every year.
Researchers found that more than 90% of children were consumed by the emergency department after evaluation. But scald burns – which are caused by liquids or steam instead of dry heat – can sometimes require hospitalization and even surgery.
"To be honest with you, it's a very, very common story," said Dr. David Greenhalgh, chief of burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children – Northern California and former president of the American Burn Association.
"They knock [the soup] over, and it spills onto their lap, "said Greenhalgh, who was not involved in the research. "They may have come to the hospital for a while, or we teach the family how to take care of the burn, or some kids need skin grafts. But I am not surprised. "
The researchers found the trunk, the bodily region from the shoulders to the groin, and 4 to 7 years old.
Said Allen, whose team is to fake soup – such as water with paint in it – to determine how exactly the injuries occur.
"Is it because you're pulling it down from the microwave? Is it because they are not ready? Or is it actually when they're eating it's tipping? "She asked.
Whatever the cause, Allen believes parents should be extra cautious when offering children to handle instant soups. "If you're going to let your children cook, carry and consume these products, they do not need adequate supervision."
When it comes to blood-related burns, Greenhalgh But in some cases, he said, parents may downplay any dangers for the sake of convenience.
"Many studies show the parents may know the risks with scald burns, but they tend to cut corners sometimes," he said. "They may know it's a risk, but it's quicker and easier, and they hope nothing happens."
Product design may be to blame
Greenhalgh warns that poor product design may make instant soups very dangerous. They often come in flimsy paper or styrofoam cups that are heated in microwaves, leaving boiling water in potentially unstable containers.
In a study published in the Journal of Burn Care and Research, Greenhouse looked at the stability of instant soup containers. Those findings could have been implications for manufacturers hoping to reduce the risk of product-related burns.
"What [companies] should do is make them like the Yoplait [yogurt] containers, where they're at the bottom and at the top, "Greenhalgh said. "It would be a very simple thing to design and change."
Nissin Cup Noodles, one of the most sold brand, just at 21.2 degrees. Products with resist bases could be angled over 60 degrees before tipping.
Maruchan, Nissin and Nongshim, three large instant soup factories, and their designs have changed little since Greenhalgh's 2006 study.
But some experts believe Allen's new research should be a wake-up call for the industry. "It should at least give them a break about their product design packaging," said Dr. James J. Gallagher, director of the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.
What to do if your child is burned
Curious and increasingly independent children often at risk for scald burns, Gallagher says, so all parents should know how to treat and treat the injuries.
"They're starting to get hurt," he said.
If a child is burned, he said, "the most important thing is to get the clothing off".
Not all burns require medical attention, but some warrant a hospital visit. "After you've done the first aid, take a good look at the child. If you're seeing any blistering, then certainly the child should be seen by a physician, "Gallagher said.
Emergency rooms are not life-threatening. "Almost always, in these situations, a child wants to be stable enough to drive over to a burn center, which is not always the closest hospital."
And as accidents happen, parents can take simple steps to reduce risk in the kitchen, as well as cooling them before serving them, purchasing more stable and supervising children during mealtime.
Those steps might seem unnecessary, but Gallagher says it's easier to prevent burns than treat them.
"We're at the burn center are supposed to be out of business," he said.