10 Viral 'Food' Challenges That Could Send You to the ER
Wouldn’t a bag of Tide Pods and a giant wasabi ball be delicious right about now? Probably not. Read on to find out why these and other foods/non-foods in trending viral challenges should never go near your mouth.
Tacos. Fries. Mac and cheese. There are so many delicious things you could shower your taste buds with. And that begs the question: Why are people ingesting things like laundry detergent and dry spices? Bored with being healthy? Longing for the infant years, when everything goes into their mouths? Harboring not-so-secret dreams to be “YouTube famous?”
If the temptation to cheat death and munch on these Gen Z-approved appetizers is simply too strong, take this as your official warning: Don’t let these 10 things get anywhere near your mouth — even if everyone around you is doing it.
1. Tide Pods
In case you were wondering why every other Super Bowl LII ad was a Tide commercial, it was to remind us that Tide is actually a detergent and not an edible treat — as the recent viral challenge implies. For those unfamiliar with the Tide Pod challenge, well, it’s where you post a video of yourself eating Tide Pods.
Dr. Irene Tien from telemedicine company The Rowe Network explains why this is a very bad idea: “First, the extremely bitter substance on the pods’ surface can cause you to inhale sharply and lodge the pod in your windpipe. If you swallow the pod, the concentrated detergent chemically burns your lips, mouth, esophagus and stomach. This triggers inflammation and swelling to try to repair the damage. If there is a significant burn in the back of the throat, it makes it harder to breathe. And if you breathe the detergent into your lungs, it can cause direct lung damage.” She adds, “People who have ingested Tide Pods vomit repeatedly and can have severe difficulty breathing, which can require a ventilator or even cause death.” Need more convincing?
2. A Tablespoon of Ground Cinnamon
Sweet rolls. Snickerdoodles. Cinnamon toast. If you’re a fan of this hot, aromatic spice, these are a few of your favorite things. But do you love cinnamon enough to eat a tablespoon of the stuff by itself? This is what teens and young adults have been challenging each other to do on camera. But according to Dr. Robby Holland, medical director and emergency physician at The Colony ER Hospital, it’s highly dangerous.
He says, “Because cinnamon is a caustic powder, it creates a burning sensation and dries your mouth and throat — which can lead to coughing, gagging, throat irritation and aspirating the powder into your lungs. The inner lining of your lungs is much more sensitive and thinner than the mucous membranes of your mouth and esophagus. This, combined with the inability of cinnamon to dissolve in your lungs, can lead to pneumonia, permanent scarring and even your lungs collapsing.” He adds, “Multiple people have ended up in the ICU on a ventilator after attempting this challenge.” Yep, we’ll save the spice for our toast.
3. Loads of Marshmallows
Marshmallows probably conjure up images of s’mores or Lucky Charms, not a contest in which you stuff them into your face. But that’s how this challenge works. Officially called the “Chubby Bunny Challenge,” participants must see who can shove the most marshmallows in their mouth and say “chubby bunny.” No gagging, swallowing or chewing is allowed.
According to ER physician and telehealth provider Dr. Irene Tien, “There have been at least two deaths from the Chubby Bunny Challenge — both from choking on the marshmallows. When you stuff marshmallows in your mouth while trying to speak, you risk inhaling the marshmallows into your windpipe. The marshmallows can lodge there, causing you to be unable to breathe — and you suffocate to death. The marshmallow surface can get sticky when it gets wet, and the soft consistency makes it more difficult to remove from the airway.”
Read more: Why Don’t Vegetarians Eat Marshmallows?
4. A Ladle Full of Flour
It’s the star ingredient of many comfort foods, including bread, baked goods, pizza and pasta. But that doesn’t mean you should cozy up on the couch with a bag of all-purpose Gold Medal while binge-watching a Netflix show. Yet people are participating in this popular challenge that requires them to swallow a ladle full of flour without water. Dr. Robby Holland, medical director and emergency physician, says, “This has a similar effect as the cinnamon challenge. Flour may not be caustic, but because it’s a powder, it tends to stay clumped and is not easily swallowed in bulk. So it can cause choking, gagging and, potentially, lung issues.”
Read more: Health Risks of Eating Flour
5. Whole Ghost Peppers
If you’re the type of person who puts hot sauce on everything, then you might scoff at the Bhut jolokia (ghost pepper) challenge. All you have to do is film yourself swallowing an entire ghost pepper. Nothing’s too spicy for you, right? Well, consider these two words: “burning” and “diarrhea.” Medical director and emergency physician Dr. Robby Holland elaborates: “Ghost peppers are one of the hottest peppers in the world, with a rating of 1.35 million Scoville heat units — compared to a rating of up to 8,000 for a jalapeno. There is a delay of up to 45 seconds after consumption before the pain begins, which builds in intensity and lasts for over half an hour. The active ingredient in a ghost pepper is capsaicin, which is also found in self-defense pepper spray,” he says. “In addition to the severe pain you’ll feel after eating a ghost pepper, it can also constrict the airways in your lungs. And if you make it past this point, you’ll still have abdominal pains and burning diarrhea to look forward to. Overall, not recommended!”
6. 150 Warheads
Fans of extremely sour snacks probably have a special place in their hearts for these pucker-inducing hard candies. Besides prompting salivation and intense cravings, what’s the big deal if you want to load up on 150 of these tangy treats in the name of a simple challenge? Emergency-room physician and telehealth provider Dr. Irene Tien explains what you can look forward to: “The Warheads candy’s surface has malic acid on it, which is the source of their extreme sourness. The underlying candy has citric acid. The acidity of malic acid is high enough that it can cause tooth enamel damage. But eating 150 Warheads at one time means that a large amount of malic acid and very acidic pH is in your mouth. This can lead to irritation of the mucous membranes of the mouth as well as superficial acid burns.”
Read more: The 20 Most Dangerous Candies
7. A Gallon of Milk
Say you decide to attempt the popular challenge of drinking a gallon of milk. Before you grab a jug and start chugging, ask yourself this: Do I enjoy vomiting? Medical director and emergency physician Dr. Robby Holland explains: “Generally, the stomach can hold about a half a gallon. If a gallon of milk is consumed, stretch receptors in the stomach organ will trigger a vomit reflex that will empty the stomach. Whole milk also contains a high amount of protein and fat, which further inhibits the stomach from allowing the milk to pass into the small intestine.” Additionally, he says, “the gastric acid in the stomach causes the proteins to unravel — which leads to further expansion. While, technically, drinking a gallon of milk in an hour is possible, you are most likely going to vomit. Anytime you vomit, you risk aspirating contents into your lungs, which can lead to breathing difficulties and pneumonia.” Delicious.
8. Six Saltines
Whenever you’ve suffered from nausea (hopefully, not from one of these challenges), perhaps you’ve tried eating saltines to settle your stomach. But can you imagine eating six saltines in 60 seconds without water? Even eating one or two puts you on the fast track to cotton mouth. Marianne McAndrew, M.S.N., RN, CDE, says, “The difficulty comes in as you begin eating the crackers. Your body uses saliva to aid you in breaking down food and swallowing it, but saltines counteract that and soak it up. Some findings suggest that a single cracker can absorb the majority of the saliva in an individual’s mouth. As a result, you would need to throw back a glass of water or risk choking.”
Dr. Irene Tien adds, “Saltines can overwhelm the amount of saliva in your mouth after about two crackers. This means that the rest of the saltines remain a dry dust in your mouth, ripe for inhaling into your lungs — which can cause a coughing fit, forceful inhalations and aspirated food. Anything aspirated can lead to lung inflammation, asthma exacerbations and pneumonia.”
Read more: Are Saltine Crackers Healthy?
9. 24 Peeps
These overly sugary chicks made of marshmallow goo are only questionably edible in small amounts, but there’s no questioning that two dozen in five minutes is way over the line. But that’s what this viral challenge calls for you to do. Besides nearly gluing your jaws shut, is there any real harm in devouring 24 peeps? According to medical director and emergency physician Dr. Robby Holland, “You can most likely eat 24 Peeps in five minutes. There likely wouldn’t be too many side effects other than maybe an upset stomach from eating quickly and ingesting a lot of sugar in one sitting. But again, you have to consider anything that goes in your mouth has the potential to be aspirated.” Dr. Tien adds, “Peeps are very gooey, and the risk of trying to eat a food of this consistency quickly would increase your risk of choking, similar to the Chubby Bunny Challenge.”
10. An Entire Bottle of Soy Sauce
This is one of the main elements in the Reverse Sushi Roll viral challenge, where participants must eat a giant ball of wasabi, drink one bottle of soy sauce, and then eat a King Kong-size sushi tower (about three to four rolls) — all in one sitting. Attempting this challenge in the name of internet glory? Here are some details to keep in mind.
According to Dr. Tien, “The RDA for sodium is 2,300 milligrams per day, which is in around 2.5 tablespoons of soy sauce. This challenge expects you to chug 20 ounces of soy sauce — which is around 18,000 milligrams of sodium. Taking in a large amount of sodium quickly raises blood sodium levels. For those with a history of heart failure, this can worsen your condition. Meanwhile, the wasabi contains isothiocyanates, which signals to your brain that you’ve eaten something noxious and causes your nose to start running to try to wash away the wasabi irritant. If you suddenly inhale in response, you could suck wasabi into your lungs, resulting in pneumonia as well as intensifying any underlying lung problems like asthma.”