Massachusetts Teen Dies After Eating Spicy Tortilla as part of Social Media Challenge, Autopsy Confirms

Harris Wolobah
Harris Wolobah GoFundMe/Facebook

A Massachusetts teenager who participated in the "One Chip Challenge" died as a result of 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.

Autopsy Confirmed Wolobah Died of Cardiac Arrest from Eating the Spicy Chip

As previously reported, the 14-year-old died on Sept. 1, 2023, prompting Chip maker Paqui to pull the product from store shelves days after his death.

Wolobah's cause of death was listed as cardiopulmonary arrest "in the setting of recent ingestion of food substance with high capsaicin concentration." He also had an enlarged heart and a congenital heart defect, the medical examiner found.

The teen's mother, Lois Wolobah, told a local news outlet 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.

What is the 'One Chip Challenge'?

The 'One Chip Challenge' debuted in 2016, but the following years have seen renewed interest among youngsters. It was started as a marketing campaign by chip company, Paqui. Youngsters buy the chip, flavoured with Carolina Reaper pepper, and film themselves having it to document how long they can go on eating it without drinking or eating anything for relief. The pepper used in the chip is considered the hottest pepper in the world.

Poison Control, which has a web page dedicated to the challenge, says, "The Paqui One Chip Challenge is a social media challenge that involves consumption of a spicy tortilla chip. The chip contains capsaicin, a compound found naturally in chilli peppers. Capsaicin consumption typically causes mouth and throat pain but can also result in more serious health problems including heart attack and esophageal damage."

It says of the challenge, "Because everyone's sensation of taste is different, the hot and spicy flavor of the One Chip Challenge can vary among individuals. The hot or spicy sensation felt in the mouth and throat after eating chili peppers is due to the presence of capsaicin. The capsaicin content of foods is frequently assessed by using the Scoville heat units (SHU) scale. Bell peppers have zero SHU, while pure capsaicin contains approximately 15 million SHU. The Carolina Reaper pepper contains up to 2.2 million SHU, and some Scorpion peppers can contain more than 2 million SHU. The high SHU measurements confirm that both of these peppers are quite pungent and irritating to taste."

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