Have the spicy food challenges become too extreme?

Paqui retrieves his “One Chip Challenge” snack from the shelves after death

Paqui retrieves his “One Chip Challenge” snack from the shelves after death


The death of a 14-year-old boy after his participation in a food production “One Chip Challenge” daring consumers to eat just one of their intensely spicy tortilla chips has renewed attention to the popularity — and risks — of spicy food challenges and other extreme social media dares.

Paqui chips, a Hershey snack feel who created the challenge, announced Thursday its decision to remove the product, packed in coffin-shaped boxes, from the store shelves. The company’s move came six days after the death of Harris Wolobah of Worcester, Massachusetts. Wolobah died a few hours after taking the spicy chip challenge. His family is awaiting a cause of death from the Massachusetts Medical Examiner’s Office pending an autopsy. The results are not expected for several weeks.

“I hope, I pray to God, that no parent will go through what I’m going through,” Harris’ mother, Lois Wolobah, told WBZ-TV. “I miss my son so much. I miss him so much.”

Teenager dies after Paqui “one chip challenge”


Old challenge, new medium

Challenges with spicy food have existed for years. From local eating contests to chili-pepper eating to restaurant walls for those who have completed extra-hot dishes, people around the world have dared each other to eat particularly fiery foods, with some experts pointing to the internal rush of competition and risk-taking.

But extremely spicy products created and marketed solely for the challenges — and possible Internet fame — are a more recent phenomenon, and teenagers are especially exposed to them because of social media, says Florida International University associate professor of psychology Elisa Trucco.

There is a “glamorization of these challenges on social media,” Trucco said. “You see a lot of ‘likes’ or comments (indicating) social status or popularity from these challenges, but you don’t see a lot of the negative consequences — like the trips to the emergency room or other injuries.”

Alexander DePaoli, an associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University, added that people may expose themselves to discomfort and share it online for a sense of “group belonging,” similar to offline challenges like a game of truth or dare.

Extremely hot sauces and peppers

A YouTube series called “Hot Ones,” for example, rose to Internet fame several years ago with videos of celebrities’ reactions to eating spicy wings. Meanwhile, restaurants across the country continue to offer personal challenges — from Buffalo Wild Wings’ “Blazin’ Challenge” to the “Hell Challenge” from Wing King in Las Vegas. In both challenges, guests over 18 can attempt to eat a certain amount of wings doused in extra hot sauce in a limited amount of time without drinking or eating any other food.

Chile pepper eating contests are also regularly hosted around the world. Last year, Gregory Foster ate 10 Carolina Reaper chilies, which Guinness World Records named the world’s hottest, in a record time of 33.15 seconds in San Diego, California.

In most cases, people will choose to participate in challenges that they are trained for or do not consider to be truly dangerous. But a line is crossed when someone gets hurt, DePaoli noted.

While autopsy results for Wolobah are still pending, the teenager’s family claims the One Chip Challenge is responsible for his death on September 1. The product, manufactured by Paqui, instructs participants to eat just one chip and then see how long they can last without consuming other food and water.

Videos show people gagging, begging for water

Sales of the chip appear to be largely driven by people posting videos on social media of them or their friends, including teenagers and children, eating the chips and then reacting to the heat. Some videos show people gagging, coughing and begging for water.

Since Wolobah’s death, Paqui has asked retailers to stop selling the product, and some health experts have pointed to potential dangers of eating such spicy products under certain circumstances, especially depending on the amount of capsaicin, a component that gives chili peppers their heat .

Super-spicy tortilla chip challenge blamed for San Francisco boy’s ‘poisoning’


But there are plenty of similar products that remain online and on store shelves, including Red Hot Reaper’s One Chip Challenge, Blazing Foods’ Death Nut Challenge and Tube of Terror Challenge, and Wilder Toys’ Hot Ones Truth or Dab sauce game. The Associated Press reached out to each company after Paqui pulled its own product, but did not receive a response.

DePaoli said it’s not unusual for companies to engage in viral marketing.

“However, it’s unusual to have something where the brand actually wants you to put something into your body,” he said. Companies “don’t want to be responsible for that.”

Despite warnings or labels indicating adult use only, the products can still end up in the hands of young people who may not understand the risks, Trucco added.

“There’s a reason these challenges are appealing,” she said. “This type of marketing sells.”

Leave a Comment