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14-year-old died of heart attack after participating in a spicy tortilla chip challenge

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN

New York (CNN) — The chief medical examiner’s office in Massachusetts has determined that a teenager who ate a tortilla chip containing a high concentration of a chemical compound found in chili peppers, died of a heart attack last September.

Harris Wolobah, who had a congenital heart defect, was attempting Paqui’s ultra-spicy “One Chip Challenge” when he ingested the tortilla chip seasoned with both the Carolina Reaper pepper and the Naga Viper pepper.

Paqui voluntarily pulled the product, which was packaged in a coffin-shaped box, off shelves following Wolobah’s death in September.

The chief medical examiner’s office on Thursday confirmed to CNN that Wolobah died of cardiopulmonary arrest after eating a food substance “with (a) high capsaicin concentration.” Capsaicin is the spicy, naturally occurring chemical in chili peppers.

The Carolina Reaper Pepper ranks just under pepper spray on the Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of peppers and chilis.

The Naga Viper is a bit less pungent, coming in at around 1.2 million heat units on the scale. That’s far spicier than a jalapeño pepper, which comes in at about 5,000 heat units.

“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,” a Paqui spokesperson told CNN Thursday.

“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.” The spokesperson added that the “One Chip Challenge has been discontinued.”

The company’s website says it will reimburse consumers for 2023 Paqui Carolina Reaper + Naga Viper Pepper One Chip Challenge bags which haven’t been eaten.

— CNN’s Sara Smart and Richard Davis contributed to this report.

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