Tag Archives: leak

Naked Noodle Failure Analysis

I got a couple of these Naked Noodle Chinese Szechuan cups from Grocery Outlet (“Bargain Market”) at 2 / $1. Chinese Szechuan – as if there’s another kind.
I elected the Microwave instructions. The fill line was difficult to find, but I put the water in, and cooked it in the microwave for 2 minutes..

It leaked into the microwave.

I took the cup out and looked for a hole in the bottom. None was apparent. I poured the contents into a small bowl, added some water, and microwaved it a bit more. It smelled like baked beans. The flavor was weak, but that was probably on account of the added water.

The next day, I decided to debug the failure. Looking more closely at the instructions, I realized that the 2-minute time was for an 800 to 900-watt microwave, and mine was 1200 watts. Still, it would have been very poor design, indeed, for the manufacturer allow their product to leak all over the microwave on account of a common consumer oversight.

I also noticed upon re-reading that the instructions mentioned stirring before microwaving. That gave me a possible reason why the noodles were all in little pieces, as a block like Cup o’ Noodles would make stirring nearly impossible. I still consider it weak documentation and poor product design. It should say, “IMPORTANT: stir thoroughly before microwaving.” or perhaps, “WARNING: the cup will melt and the soup will leak all over your microwave if you don’t stir well.”

The label zips off. Let’s see what’s under it, shall we?
This was the thin plastic cup under the label. Looked like the same material (polystyrene) as red Solo cups, only thinner. Those holes are where the liquid leaked out. I wondered whether they might have been an intentional vent feature. Seemed like an unlikely place for a vent. I noticed that the fill line instructions are printed on the back side of the label, not the cup, itself.
At first, I thought that the recycling symbol was melted from the heat, but later noticed that a brand new cup in the store was similarly blurry. Not much help in determining the type of plastic, other than it seems to have two letters under the triangle, and the digit in the triangle does not seem to be 1.
By the way, here are the fill lines for water in an uncooked product. It seems that the designer wanted to offer 3 fill options, but because they could not easily print on the plastic cup itself, went with this nearly unreadable solution. It’s even worse in dim light. What they should have done is simply mold a single fill line into the cup. Simple, better usability. Repeat customers, if any, would learn to adjust the water level to individual taste.
This is the inside of the failed cup. The gravy base powder appears to have not fully dissolved, and has accumulated around the leak points. Possibly, this extra-salty paste was a better conductor of microwave energy, and led to higher than expected temperatures that melted the holes in the cup?
Without the paper label, the failed cup leaks profusely.
As an experiment, I decided to make the other cup in an ordinary ceramic bowl.
The loose noodles have been dumped into the bowl, but the gravy powder has caked onto the bottom of the cup. I will loosen it.
The gravy powder cake has been dumped into the bowl now. With most of the contents of the cup gone, I can now see that there are no intentional vent holes near the bottom of the virgin cup. So it’s likely that the failed one did melt through. I poured some water into the bowl, and found that it took a fair amount of mashing to finally disperse the gravy powder. It’s no wonder the gravy paste concentrated in a small area. Upon re-reading the instructions for about the fifth time, I realized that that they say “stir and microwave” (but not even “stir well”) before microwaving. I maintain that it would still have been difficult to dissolve that powder cake at the bottom. Moreover, if stirring was so critical, the manufacturer should have broken it out into a separate step in the instructions.
I microwaved, this time for 88 seconds instead of 2 minutes, and this was the result. I have no idea why they used short noodles, which are hard to eat with a fork, and even harder with chopsticks. Despite the picture on the label, it appears that this was designed with a spoon in mind. The sauce was sweet and gingery, with a little bit of heat. But it was NOT what I would be accustomed to as Szechuan. There was no numbing flavor (Lah, ้บป) in it. I can give this product a miss the next time. Grocery Outlet is known for selling overstocks, discontinued products, and failed experiments at ridiculously low prices, and this was probably a failed experiment.