(CBS News) – Attorneys for a California mom plan to file suit against a maker of instant noodle soup Monday. Her son was severely burned after the soup spilled in his lap.

Burn doctors across the country tell CBS News instant cups of soup can pose a serious hazard to children. It may have to do with how the containers are designed.

Latisha Beam’s 3-year old son Jolan might look happy these days, but he suffered severe burns below the waist last summer, his mom says, after his 16-year-old sister set a cup of hot noodle soup on the dining table.

Beam said, “He climbed into his seat, so I guess my daughter realized he was there, so she went to move the noodles, and as she went to move them, they just toppled over and it just spilled in his lap completely.”

The hot soup caused second and third degree burns to his lap and groin area, requiring multiple skin grafts.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Beam said. “It was horrible.”

Jolan has had four operations, and will need more. Beam said, “The average person does not know how bad those noodles can burn a child.”

But what happened to Jolan is not a surprise to burn surgeons like Dr. Tina Palmieri, assistant chief of Burn Surgery at Shriner’s Hospital of Northern California. “The instant soups have become a very frequent cause of injury for our patients,” she said.

And not just at her hospital. CBS News surveyed 15 burn centers across the country. Most don’t keep exact statistics, but among them, they estimated they see 600 children with those serious burns each year. One hospital even made a poster to warn parents about the dangers of instant soups.

And Palmieri said she believes soup manufacturers can do something about it. She says it has to do with the packaging.

Palmieri said, “The reason they call them cup-a-soups is because they look like a cup and they taper toward the bottom. And because they taper, they’re a little less stable. And so they’re easier to knock over.”

Her colleague, Dr. David Greenhalgh, chief of Burn Surgery at Shriners Hospital for Children of Northern California, demonstrated what he sees as the problem, but said with a flatter container — “it takes a lot more to tip it over.”

After seeing so many children burned, Greenhalgh studied different container shapes and their risk of tipping. From his study, diagrams show just how hard it is to tip over a shorter, wider container, and how much easier it can be to tip a taller, flared cup.

But Greenhalgh said he believes there’s a simple solution: just turn the cup upside down — like a Yoplait yogurt container.

Greenhalgh said, “It seems to me it’d be very simple, very simple design.”

CBS News wanted to know what the soup manufacturers have to say. None agreed to an interview. A representative for Maruchan, maker of the top-selling “Instant Lunch” cup, told us that it sold more than 500 million last year and had just four burn claims, one for a child. And Nissin Foods, the maker of Cup Noodles, the product Beam says tipped over on her son Jolan, told CBS News in a statement, “safe and proper enjoyment of our products is one of our priorities,” that the soups are “prominently labeled” with warnings about handling them with care around children, and they said, “Our hearts go out to children and families who have suffered burns of any type.”

CBS News correspondent Anna Werner remarked, “People might say, you know what, accidents happen, kids get burned by a lot of things, you can’t prevent everything. Why is this different?”

Palmieri said, “Because, we can do something. And there’s some things in life you can’t prevent, but others that can possibly be prevented and I think we should look into preventing those things that we can.

Beam says that’s why she now plans to sue Nissin Foods over her son’s injuries.”

Beam said, “I’m after — to get the cup changed. My kid, I believe, in my opinion, suffered enough for every kid. I don’t want to see another kid have to be burned like this.”

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)


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