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UC Davis School of Medicine

UC Davis School of Medicine

NEWS | December 8, 2011

Pediatric burn research leadership highlights the risk of scalds from instant cup of soup

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

Scrutiny this week of the burn risk from consuming instant cup of soup has focused new interest on forward-looking research led by David G. Greenhalgh, professor and chief of the division of burn surgery in the Department of Surgery in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

Dr. David Greenhalgh © UC Regents
Dr. David Greenhalgh

The research, "Instant cup of soup: Design flaws increase risk of burns," found that the prepackaged soups are a frequent cause of scald injuries among children. The study was published in 2006 in the Journal of Burn Care & Research.

"Burns caused by spilling soup are quite frequent in children as well as for adults," according to Greenhalgh and his colleagues in the study.

"Despite prevention efforts, the incidence of these burns does not seem to be decreasing -- which is not surprising because more than three billion containers of soup are purchased in the United States per year," said Greenhalgh, who also is chief of staff of the Burn Center at Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California.

Click here to listen to the NPR story on instant soup burns with Dr. Greenhalgh

The study was conducted in children treated for scald burns at Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California between June 1997 and August 2004. It examined the source of scald burns among patients, to determine which scalds resulted from soup spills. It also examined the design of the ready-to-eat soup containers, which cook soup with the addition of hot water or microwaving, and its relationship to soup scalds.

Soup burns represented approximately 8 percent of all burn admissions during the study period, and occurred largely in very young children, those 4 and younger. Most of the injuries -- over 80 percent -- took place either in the home or in daycare settings.

Diagram of soup cups and degrees they will tip over

The study noted that scald injuries are the most common type of burn injury in children, at 55 percent of all admissions. To determine a reason for the high number of soup scalds, the study examined the packaging for 13 instant, ready-to-serve soups designed for eating out of the container.

The research pinpointed product-design flaws as a chief cause for the risk of scald burns. The soup containers frequently were tall, narrow at their base and broad at their top, making it easy for them to tip over and spill their hot contents.

"Our simple evaluation showed that the tendency of a container to tip over is related to the height and area of the base of the container. The taller the containers or the narrower the bases, the easier it is to tip them over and spill the hot contents.

"Simple changes in the shapes of these containers would have a major impact on the incidence of soup-related burns," the study concluded.

The other study authors include Peggy Bridges, Elena Coombs, Debbie Chapyak and William Doyle, all of Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California, and Tina Palmieri, of Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California and UC Davis.

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at medschool.ucdavis.edu.