The tortilla chip company that challenged consumers to eat a single chip made with two of the hottest peppers in the world is pulling the product from retail shelves, the company said on Thursday. The move followed the death of a teenager whose family said he had died after consuming the chip.
“The Paqui One Chip Challenge is intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting the chip is not for children” or other sensitive groups, the company, a subsidiary of the Hershey Company, said in a statement on its website. “We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings.”
As a result, the company said, it was working with retailers to remove the product from shelves “out of an abundance of caution.”
Paqui also said it would offer refunds for the product, which was priced at about $9.99 for a single serving. Paqui chips are made by Amplify Snack Brands, which Hershey bought for about $1.6 billion in 2017.
The label on the coffin-shaped box dared customers to wait as long as possible before eating or drinking anything after consuming the chip, and then to post their reactions on social media. This year’s challenge produced many videos showing people begging for water or milk or shoveling ice cream into their mouths after eating the chip.
The chip involved in the challenge was made with the Carolina Reaper, which has been measured at more than two million Scoville heat units, the scale used to measure how hot peppers are, and the Naga Viper, which has been measured at just under 1.4 million Scoville units. Jalapeño peppers are typically rated at between 2,000 and 8,000 units.
The chip was one of the last things Harris Wolobah, 14, ate before he died, his family said. Lois Wolobah, his mother, said her son’s school in Worcester, Mass., called last Friday to tell her that he was sick. When she arrived at the school, Harris was doubled over with stomach pains. About two hours later, he was rushed to a hospital, where he later died.
The cause of his death was not immediately clear, but Ms. Wolobah told The New York Times that she believed the chip had something to do with his death. A spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said it would take up to 12 weeks before autopsy results were available.
“I just want there to be an awareness for parents to know that it’s not safe,” Ms. Wolobah said in an interview this week.
Several people who tried the chip told The Times that they experienced painful stomach aches after eating the chip.
A spokeswoman for Paqui, Kim Metcalfe, said that the company was “deeply saddened” by Harris’s death and “express our condolences to the family.”
“We care about all of our consumers and have made the decision to remove the product from shelves,” Ms. Metcalfe said in a statement. “The product’s label clearly states it is not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying health conditions.”
Ms. Metcalfe emphasized that the removal of the chip was not a “recall” but rather a “voluntary retrieval.”
Until Tuesday, marketing materials for the challenge asked participants, “How long can you last before you spiral out?” and gave special rankings depending on how long they could hold off from drinking something for relief. That language had been removed from the site by Wednesday. By Thursday, all that remained on the challenge’s website was the company’s new statement, the original warning label and a shortened F.A.Q.
The warning label on the chip’s packaging advised that the chip should be kept out of the reach of children. People who are pregnant, have medical conditions, are sensitive or allergic to spicy foods, peppers, nightshade plants or capsaicin, the compound in chili peppers that is responsible for burning and irritation, should also avoid the chip.
It was not immediately clear how many of the “One Chip Challenge” packages had been sold since the latest flavor was released in August. A local CBS affiliate in Boston said on Wednesday that it had found the chip at a grocery store about 10 minutes from Harris’s school.