Paqui, the maker of extremely spicy tortilla chips marketed as the “One Chip Challenge,” is voluntarily pulling the product from shelves after a mother said her teenage son died of complications from consuming a single chip.
The chips were sold individually, and their seasoning contained two of the hottest peppers in the world: the Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper.
Each chip was packaged in a coffin-shaped container with a skull on the front.
Lois Wolobah told NBC10 Boston that her 14-year-old son, Harris Wolobah, ate the chip on Friday, then went to the school nurse with a stomach ache. Wolobah said Harris — a sophomore at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester, Massachusetts — passed out at home that afternoon. He was pronounced dead at the hospital later that day, she said.
An autopsy has not yet revealed his cause of death.
A Paqui spokesperson told NBC News on Thursday that the company was “deeply saddened by the death of Harris Wolobah and express our condolences to the family.”
“While the Paqui One Chip Challenge is intended for adults only, we have seen an increase in teen usage of the product. We care about all of our consumers and have made the decision to remove the product from shelves,” the spokesperson said. “We are actively working with our retailers and are offering refunds for any purchases of our single-serve one chip challenge product.”
Until sales of the product were suspended, Paqui’s marketing dared people to participate in the challenge by eating a chip, posting a picture of their tongue on social media after the chip turned it blue, then waiting as long as possible to relieve the burn with water or other food.
The challenge has existed in some form since 2016.
“Only the bravest will be able to prove they faced the Reaper when they show off their blue tongue after completing the challenge,” Paqui’s former senior brand manager, Brandon Kieffer, said in a news release last year.
The product’s label warned that children, pregnant people, those with underlying health issues, people sensitive to spicy foods and people who are allergic to peppers, nightshades or capsaicin (the component of chili peppers that makes them spicy) should avoid the chip. People should seek medical assistance if they experience difficulty breathing, fainting, or extended nausea after eating the chip, the warning said.
The label also recommended that people who touched the chip wash their hands with soap afterward and avoid touching their eyes or other sensitive areas.
The spiciness of chili peppers is measured on the Scoville scale, which calculates the heat units in a given pepper. Carolina Reapers score around 1.7 million Scoville heat units and Naga Viper peppers around 1.4 million. A jalapeño pepper, by contrast, has up to 8,500 Scoville heat units.
The main health risks of eating a Carolina Reaper involve vomiting or burning or numbness in the mouth, according to a 2020 study. Studies have also documented severe headaches from consuming extremely spicy peppers, as well as one case in which a man vomited so much from eating ghost peppers that he tore a hole in his esophagus.
Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said Wednesday in a post on X that hospitalizations from the One Chip Challenge have been reported across the country, including among teens. Last fall, the Dublin Unified School District in Northern California told NBC Bay Area that several of its students were sent home due to adverse reactions to the product.
“While the investigation into the cause of the teenager’s death in Worcester continues, the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office would like to remind parents to research and discuss with your children about the one-chip challenge,” Early wrote.
Parents, he added, should advise their kids “not to partake in this activity.”