A single, very spicy tortilla chip, known as the ‘One Chip Challenge,’ has been voluntarily pulled off shelves in the U.S. and Canada after a Massachusetts teen died of complications related to consuming the hot chip.
The “extremely hot tortilla chip,” made by the chipmaker Paqui, is sold individually in an intimidating, coffin-shaped box with a large skull on the front. The snack is flavoured with Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper peppers, two of the world’s hottest varieties.
When 14-year-old Harris Wolobah from Worcester, Mass. ate the chip while at school last week, he died just hours later.
On the back of the box, the “One Chip Challenge” states it is meant for “adult consumption,” and should be kept away from children.
Harris’ mother, Lois, told NBC Boston her son complained to the school nurse about a stomachache after he ate the chip on Sept. 1. Harris was sent home from school and later lost consciousness. He was brought to a nearby hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.
The exact cause of Harris’ death is not yet known, though an autopsy has been ordered.
Paqui announced on Thursday the “One Chip Challenge” would be pulled from stores in reaction to Harris’ death.
“The Paqui One Chip Challenge 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,” the company wrote on its website.
The statement continued: “We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings. As a result, while the product continues to adhere to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves.”
Paqui said the company will also provide refunds on the single-chip product to those who make a request. A spokesperson for the company told the Canadian Press that the “One Chip Challenge” is sold “in very limited distribution in Canada.”
The extremely spicy snack arrived here in 2022 and is sold in Sobey’s and Safeway stores. It was priced at $8.99.
The “One Chip Challenge” will also be removed for sale on Amazon in Britain, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to the BBC. The online seller eBay told the outlet it is a “top priority” to remove the “One Chip Challenge” from its website.
Harris’ family blames his death on the “One Chip Challenge.”
Prior to Thursday, part of the “One Chip Challenge” involved waiting as long as possible to drink water or eat food after ingesting the spicy tortilla chip. On its website and certain packages, Paqui had previously encouraged adventurous eaters to share photos of their dyed-blue tongue after eating the chip, and displayed a scale ranking how well someone handles the snack. Someone who waits one minute before drinking water was labelled “harmless,” while those who could withstand the heat for an hour were deemed “apex predators.”
As for the “One Chip Challenge” seasoning, on the Scoville scale, which quantifies the spiciness of peppers, the Naga Viper punches in at a minimum of 900,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). The Carolina Reaper packs even more heat, measuring a minimum of 1.4 million SHU. For contrast, a regular jalapeño brings a minimum 2,500 SHU.
According to Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr., other teenagers across the U.S. have also been hospitalized from the “One Chip Challenge.”
“We urge parents to discuss this with their children and advise them not to partake in this activity,” Early wrote in a thread on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The company warnings state the chips are intended for adult consumption. Other states across the country have seen hospitalizations due to the chip challenge, including teens.”
There have been reports from around the country of people who have gotten sick after taking part in the challenge, including three students from a California high school who were sent to a hospital. Paramedics were called to a Minnesota school last year when seven students fell ill after taking part in the challenge.
The ‘One Chip Challenge’ has existed in various forms since 2016, NBC News reported.
It has remained a popular internet food challenge since then, with many sharing their attempt to eat the snack online for millions of eager viewers.
Paqui is owned by the Austin-based company Amplify Snack Brands. Amplify is owned by the Hershey Company.
— With files from The Associated Press