Teen died from spicy ‘One Chip Challenge,’ autopsy concludes

BOSTON — A 14-year-old Massachusetts boy who took part in a social media challenge that had him eating an incredibly spicy tortilla chip died from eating a large quantity of chile pepper extract, according to WFXT and an autopsy report obtained by The Associated Press.

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Family members said last year that Harris Wolobah died from what they suspected was complications due to the “One Chip Challenge,” in which people attempted to eat an extremely spicy chip made by the Pacqui company.

The company pulled its single-chip serving off shelves last year following Harris’ death in September.

Harris died of cardiopulmonary arrest “in the setting of recent ingestion of food substance with high capsaicin concentration,” the autopsy said, according to the AP.

A toxicologist last year told WFXT that a person could get a toxic dose of capsaicin — the substance that gives chile peppers their heat — but the news network noted that a person would “have to eat an unreasonable amount of peppers to get poisoned.”

The autopsy showed that Harris had cardiomegaly, or an enlarged heart, and a congenital defect described as “myocardial bridging of the left anterior descending coronary artery,” according to the AP.

The teen went to the nurse’s office at Doherty Memorial High School in Worcester on Sept. 1, 2023, after complaining of feeling sick, school officials previously told WFXT. His parents picked him up and drove him home, where he later died.

In a statement posted online, Paqui said that its “One Chip Challenge” was meant only for adults and “not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying health conditions.”

The chip maker noted that it had “seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings,” prompting the decision to pull the product off shelves last year.

The “One Chip Challenge” gained popularity on social media, with people posting videos of themselves or friends reacting after eating the single chip. It was made with two of the world’s spiciest peppers and sold in a box shaped to look like a coffin.

The chip spurred reports of teens falling ill after participating in the challenge. Three high school students were taken to a California hospital after participating and seven students in Minnesota were treated by paramedics after eating the chip in 2022, the AP reported.

The chip was also blamed for the poisoning of a sixth-grade student in San Francisco last year, according to KPIX-TV.

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