A 14-year-old boy from Massachusetts in the US tragically died last Friday hours after eating a tortilla chip dusted with a spice made from two of the world’s hottest peppers, the Carolina Reaper and the Naga Viper. The incident has sparked concerns about the safety of extreme food challenges and the responsibility of manufacturers in warning consumers about potential risks.
Marketed as the “One Chip Challenge”, the single chip comes in a coffin-shaped box adorned with a red skull, complete with a list of warnings cautioning those who are pregnant or have a medical condition against eating the contents. Sold by Amplify Snack Brands, a subsidiary of the Hershey Company, the Paqui One Chip Challenge is more extreme sport than appetite-sating snack, with consumers encouraged to hold off on soothing the inevitable burn that comes with eating the chip for as long as possible.
Harris Wolobah, a reportedly healthy adolescent with no medical conditions, ate the tortilla chip and later visited his school nurse complaining of stomach pain. He was sent home but within hours he passed out and stopped breathing. Despite efforts by paramedics and hospital specialists, he was pronounced dead. While autopsy results are yet to confirm a cause of death, Harris’s mother is calling for the product to be withdrawn from sale and wants to raise awareness about its potential dangers.
The intense heat of a pepper is the result of a chemical compound called capsaicin. When capsaicin molecules come into contact with heat-detecting nerves, they trigger a message to the nervous system, creating a sensation of heat. The more capsaicin a pepper contains, the stronger the heat. The Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper peppers used in the One Chip Challenge have incredibly high heat content, with Carolina Reapers holding the current world record of over 2,000,000 Scoville heat units (SHU).
Consuming extremely hot peppers can fool our mouths and digestive tracts into thinking they are literally on fire. This triggers a rush of excitement and the release of feel-good hormones. The body also prepares for potential damage by initiating inflammatory responses, opening blood vessels to cool vital organs, and forcing the digestive tract to release its contents. While extreme reactions can occur, such as the dangerous narrowing of cerebral arteries or damage to the esophagus, fatalities are rare.
The tragic death of Harris Wolobah raises concerns about the safety of extreme food challenges like the One Chip Challenge. While it is not clear what may have caused the complications leading to his death, the incident highlights the need for manufacturers to provide clear warnings and ensure that their products are safe for consumption. Amplify Snack Brands, the company behind the One Chip Challenge, has expressed condolences and reportedly removed the product from store shelves in the US following the incident.
The death of Harris Wolobah after consuming the world’s hottest pepper chip serves as a tragic reminder of the potential dangers associated with extreme food challenges. While the exact cause of his death is still under investigation, it raises important questions about the responsibility of manufacturers in providing adequate warnings and ensuring the safety of their products. As consumers, it is crucial to exercise caution and be aware of the risks involved in participating in such challenges.