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"One Chip Challenge" led to Massachusetts teen's death, autopsy finds

Autopsy reveals Worcester teen died from cardiac arrest resulting from "One Chip Challenge"
Autopsy reveals Worcester teen died from cardiac arrest resulting from "One Chip Challenge" 02:00

WORCESTER - A Massachusetts teenager who participated in the "One Chip Challenge" died from cardiac arrest hours after eating the spicy tortilla chip, an autopsy concluded. The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Harris Wolobah of Worcester had ingested a high amount of a chili pepper extract.

The 14-year-old died on Sept. 1, 2023. Chip maker Paqui pulled the product from store shelves days after his death.

Harris Wolobah's cause of death

Wolobah's cause of death was listed as cardiopulmonary arrest "in the setting of recent ingestion of food substance with high capsaicin concentration." 

Wolobah also had an enlarged heart and a congenital heart defect, the medical examiner found. 

Harris Wolobah
Fourteen-year-old Harris Wolobah died hours after the "One Chip Challenge" his family said.  CBS Boston

The teen's mother, Lois Wolobah, told WBZ-TV last year that she got a call from the school nurse at Doherty High School, saying Harris fainted after eating the chip a friend gave him. He later passed out again at home and was taken to an emergency room where he died.

The family at the time said Wolobah was a healthy basketball player with no known allergies.

"I hope, I pray to God that no parents will go through what I'm going through. I don't want to see anybody hurting the way I'm hurting." Lois Wolobah said. "I miss my son so much. I miss him so much."  

Lois Wolobah declined to speak on camera after her son's cause of death was revealed, but she said that her family is heartbroken and angry and that she's "feeling the pain of September 1st all over again."

What is the "One Chip Challenge"?

The "One Chip Challenge," which gained popularity on social media, contains a single chip inside a box labeled "Carolina Reaper" and "Naga Viper Pepper." On the back of the package a warning label says "Keep out of reach of children." WBZ-TV found the chips in a store about 10 minutes from Wolobah's school last fall.

A box of the One Chip Challenge from Paqui. CBS Boston

"Paqui's One Chip Challenge was intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting that the product was not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or with underlying health conditions. We saw increased reports of teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings. As a result, while the product adhered to food safety standards, out of an abundance of caution, we worked with retailers to voluntarily remove the product from shelves in September 2023, and the One Chip Challenge has been discontinued," A Paqui spokesperson said in a statement to WBZ-TV.

The One Chip Challenge was also blamed for "poisoning" a sixth-grade student in San Francisco last year. 

Is capsaicin dangerous?

When do spicy foods become dangerous to someone's health? 01:55

Capsaicin is what makes chili peppers spicy and the level of capsaicin in a given product is measured in Scoville heat units.  

The tortilla chips in the "One Chip Challenge" are made with two of the hottest, with the Scoville heat unit ranging between 1.4 million and 2.2 million. Jalapeno peppers, by comparison, are only 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville.  

Capsaicin can obviously irritate the mouth and throat but can also cause nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain. But in very large doses, it can cause more serious problems such as allergic reactions, damage to the esophagus, rapid heart rate, chest pain, trouble breathing, and even heart attacks, the National Capital Poison Center says.

WBZ-TV's Dr. Mallika Marshall says that while the product is no longer in stores, parents should warn their kids to stay away from similar social media challenges and resist peer pressure to eat dangerously spicy foods. If you or your child develop trouble breathing or chest pain after eating capsaicin, call 911. 

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