The tortilla chip company Paqui is pulling its viral product known as the “One Chip Challenge” off shelves nationwide in response to new fears about its safety following the death of a 14-year-old who passed away after eating one of the chips earlier this month. In addition to removing the chip from stores, Paqui is offering refunds to people who have already purchased it “out of an abundance of caution,” the company states on its website.
The challenge, which has been making the rounds since 2016, involves eating a single very spicy chip and, often, filming a reaction video for social media. On TikTok, #onechipchallenge has 2 billion views. Though autopsy results are still pending, the family of Harris Wolobah, the teen who died, wrote on a GoFundMe campaign that they suspect his death was caused by “complications due to the ‘one chip challenge.’” Wolobah’s mother, Lois, told Boston’s NBC10 that Harris ate the chip and got a stomach ache. He briefly began to feel better, but then passed out and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“In a world filled with ‘flamin’ hot’ options packed with artificial ingredients, Paqui dares to be different. We believe that real heat comes from real peppers and shouldn’t be grown in a lab,” the company says on its website. Paqui explains in the One Chip Challenge’s FAQ that while the chip doesn’t have an “official Scoville rating,” it’s made with Carolina Reaper (1.7 million Scoville units) and Naga Viper (1.4 million Scoville units) peppers. A habanero pepper, by comparison, is considered “extra hot” at 100,000 to 300,000 Scoville units.
Paqui updated the One Chip Challenge page following the teen’s death with a large disclaimer that reads the product is “intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting the chip is not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying health conditions.” It isn’t the first time the One Chip Challenge has stoked health fears: School districts in California and Massachusetts issued warnings when the challenge went viral last year.
While it remains unclear if and how the spicy chip contributed to Wolobah’s death, extremely spicy food can have negative health effects like vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and chest pain, especially for people who don’t eat spicy food often. “Most people aren’t used to that level of heat and are going from zero to 100 when they do something like the ‘One Chip Challenge,’ where you eat an extremely spicy tortilla chip,” physician Allan Capin explained in a March report from the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s like putting a bomb in your stomach if you’re not prepared for it.”
Eater has reached out to Paqui for comment.