The company behind the "One Chip Challenge" is pulling its super-spicy chips from stores.
The infamous hot chips by Paqui have been banned by school districts across the country after reports that kids are going to the hospital after trying them.
On Sept. 7, the company posted on its website that "out of an abundance of caution, we are actively working with our retailers to remove the product from shelves."
What is the 'One Chip Challenge'?
The “One Chip Challenge" by Paqui, which originally debuted in 2016, involves eating a chip laced with Carolina Reaper and Scorpion peppers.
"The Paqui One Chip Callenge is intended for adults only, with clear and prominent labeling highlighting the chip is not for children or anyone sensitive to spicy foods or who has food allergies, is pregnant or has underlying heath conditions," the company says on its website.
"We have seen an increase in teens and other individuals not heeding these warnings," the website continues, noting that even though "the product continues to adhere to food safety standards," it will be removed from stores. The company is also offering refunds on the single-serve One Chip Challenge product.
The "high voltage" chip, which comes individually wrapped in a coffin-shaped box, turns participants' tongues blue, according to the Paqui website.
The challenge seems simple in premise.
"Eat the entire chip. Wait as long as possible before drinking or eating anything," the website previously stated. "Post your reaction on social media with #onechipchallenge and mention @paquichips."
On the brand’s challenge page, a large warning was posted to potential consumers.
“Do not eat if you are sensitive to spicy foods, allergic to peppers, nightshades, or capsaicin, or are pregnant or have any medical conditions. Keep out of reach of children,” the warning said. “After touching the chip, wash your hands with soap and do not touch your eyes or other sensitive areas. Seek medical assistance should you experience difficulty breathing, fainting, or extended nausea.”
The challenge debuted several years ago, and was seeing cycles of renewed interest thanks to the rise in popularity of TikTok.
Schools react to 'One Chip Challenge'
In 2022, a school district spokesperson said that three middle school students in Tyler, Texas were hospitalized after attempting the viral social media challenge.
“This social media challenge has been around for a few years now and is still causing a safety and security issue for our students,” Jennifer Hines, chief communications officer for Tyler Independent School District, said in a press release sent to TODAY.com.
Hines continued, “We had another student taken to the hospital in 2021. Parents, please speak with your children about the seriousness of what could happen when they try to do these social media challenges. We love your children and want them to be safe and healthy.”
California school high school students in Lodi Unified School District were sent to the hospital after participating in the challenge in 2022, according to a spokesperson for the district.
"A number of Lodi High students took part in the 'One Chip Challenge' on school campus, which entails eating a chip that has been covered in pepper and hot sauce that causes the individual to react and become ill," Chelsea Vongehr, a spokesperson for Lodi Unified School District, told TODAY.com. "A number of students were sent home and three were referred to the emergency room because of their reactions to the substance."
As a proactive measure, Huerfano School District Re-1 in in Colorado has banned the chips.
"These extremely hot chips are being brought to school as part of a social media 'challenge' encouraging other students to eat one," a 2022 Facebook post announcing the ban from Superintendent Michael Moore read. "Students across the nation have been hospitalized as a result of a reaction to the heat index of the chips. We encourage our parents and guardians to speak with their children about the dangers of participating in this and other potentially harmful internet challenges."
The post continued that students who bring the chips to school will be suspended.
Moore confirmed the accuracy of the social post to TODAY.com, as well as the chip ban.
Pearland Independent School District in Texas also sent a message in 2022 to parents of Alexander Middle School students alerting them to the chip challenge.
“The message requested that parents not allow students to bring the chips to school and asked them to discourage their students from taking part in the challenge," Cissa Madero, a spokesperson for the district, told TODAY.com in a written statement.
Why are these chips so hot?
Dr. Brett Christiansen, a pediatrician at Marshall Hospital and the Marshall Pediatric Clinic in Placerville, California, told TODAY.com that the chips are made with two of the hottest known peppers.
"Not only do they cause a burning sensation in the mouth when ingested, but they may also do so in the throat, esophagus, stomach, lower gastrointestinal tract and even on the way out," Christiansen said in a 2022 interview.
Christiansen said the ingredient creating the "heat" is called capsaicin, and may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.
"The ingredient that makes these peppers so hot is the same found in pepper spray," he said. "If it was to get into the eyes or nose, it could result in a serious burning sensation there as well. Worse, if it was accidentally inhaled, which I can imagine happening if someone was to gasp when biting into the chip and noting the heat, it could lead to bronchospasm, be a trigger for asthma or at the least, lead to severe coughing."
A representative for Paqui told TODAY in 2022 that the challenge "can be fun for those who understand what they are taking on," and the brand is hopeful those who attempt it do not have a negative experience.
"We take safety very seriously and have worked hard to ensure our products are properly and clearly labeled with allergen and safety information," the brand said in a written statement. "It is our intent that consumers take on this challenge with a full understanding of what it is and if it is appropriate for them."
The statement continued, "As our labeling states, the Paqui One Chip Challenge is notoriously hot. The product should be handled with extreme care. Our One Chip Challenge packaging includes a safety disclaimer noting that it should not be ingested by individuals who are sensitive to spicy foods, allergic to peppers, nightshades, or capsaicin, or who are minors, pregnant or have medical conditions."
In 2017, TODAY co-host Sheinelle Jones, who says she puts “hot sauce on everything” and loves spicy foods “to the point where it’s a problem,” took the challenge.
“That’s not spicy, that’s ridiculous,” Sheinelle said at the time, adding that her mouth felt like it was on fire. “It feels like my tongue has a heartbeat.”
Before ending the segment, Sheinelle warned, “Listen to me ... Don’t ever do it.”