Spicy chili kills amateur chef

Andrew Lee, 33, apparently died after making and eating an intensely spicy chili. Lee was apparently in good health and toxicologists are running tests to figure out exactly what killed him. From the Sydney Morning Herald:
The forklift driver from Edlington, West Yorkshire in England, made a tomato sauce with red chillies grown by his father, but after eating it suffered intense discomfort and itching.

Mr Lee went to bed and asked his girlfriend, Samantha Bailey, to scratch his back until he fell asleep.

When she woke in the morning he was dead, possibly after suffering a heart attack, The Guardian said.
Chef dies after eating 'super hot' chili


  1. It seems to me that it’s pretty obvious this guy died from an allergy to something in the sauce. I’m pretty sure you can’t die from any amount of chilis, unless of course you’re allergic to them. I’ll bet there was something in the sauce he didn’t know he was allergic to.

  2. What a terrible headline! Correlation does not imply causation, people. There will still be plenty of time to panic after we find out what actually killed him.

  3. That’s a spicy meat-a-ball!

    I’m gonna cry foul on #4 – from TFA:


    The studies revealed no specific evidence that OC caused or contributed significantly to any of these deaths. However, the subjects who died, all of whom were male, possessed some or all of the following features:

    * Obesity

    * Large stature

    * Bizarre behavior due to psychotic delusional, agitated, or stimulant-drug induced mental states

    * Occult (hidden) heart disease

    * Failure to be subdued by OC spray

    * Involvement in a struggle or other violent or high-exertion activity.

    Many of the subjects were restrained in positions of possible respiratory compromise, such as prone, hog-tied, or tightly strapped. Often, they died quietly during transport to jail or to the hospital.


    It seems to me that it wasn’t the pepper spray itself which did this, but rather the combination of weight, respiratory problems and possible drug use.

    Also, we need to keep in mind that -pepper spray- is brought into the lungs in an aerosolized format, which CAN cause irritation and impede respiration. Unless he was snorting lines of Cayenne WHILE eating, this is not what happened.

    Also, the LD50 (Oral/Mouse) for Capsaicin, the chemical found in Capiscum, is 47.2mg/kg. If we assume this guy was of more or less normal build, 180 pounds is about 80 kilos. So 3.776 grams of Capsaicin would have a 50% chance of killing him. However! The average Capsaicin content of Capiscum is approximately 0.25% of total weight, and that’s for a capiscum extract (http://www.extension.iastate.edu/nutrition/supplements/capiscum.php). So, unless my math is wrong, he’d have needed to ingest about 15 kilograms of pure capiscum extract in order to have a 50% chance of dying.

    Of course, I’m a Physicist, not a Chemist, so my understandings of LD50 may be off.

  4. The itching would definitely suggest that an allergy was involved- and there are lots of allergens in peppers that are NOT capsaicin. There are resins and other proteins that are also potential allergens. There are also a range of potential toxic compounds that can be present as well, such as aflatoxins.

    It’ll be interesting to see what the final coroner’s report says.

  5. @10

    The LD50 is the oral dose at which 50% of subjects died, not the dose at which individuals have a 50% chance of dying. LD50s are derived by testing at multiple dose levels and plotting the % of animals that die after a fixed amount of contiuous exposure time (24h, 48h, 7 days etc).

    They need to be taken with some salt:
    1- because even closely-related animals can differ in their susceptibility by factors of 10-1000x, so extrapolating to people is a stretch (which is why regulatory agencies apply an additional safety factor when setting human Tolerable Daily Intake regulations).

    2- your LD50 seems low? From Johnson (2007) in International Journal of Toxicology:
    “Oral LD50 values as low as 161.2 mg/kg (rats) and 118.8 mg/kg (mice) have been reported for Capsaicin in acute oral toxicity studies, with hemorrhage of the gastric fundus observed in some of the animals that died. Intravenous, intraperitoneal, and subcutaneous LD50 values were lower.”

    3- This was clearly an acute situation. So you’re right, the guy would’ve had to eat a supernova’s worth of Scofield units to get enough capsaicin… but if he had a pre-existing irritation of the bowels, who knows if that last big dose was enough to puncture his digestive tract. I still like the allergy hypothesis, because of the itching. ;)

  6. @10 So 3.776 grams of Capsaicin would have a 50% chance of killing him.

    If he were a mouse, yes. (I am a toxicologist.) The LD50 for humans is not easily correlated to that for the mouse. Also, @10, the rest of your numbers seem to talk about people who are resisting arrest in the process of dying from chili spray. That’s totally different than ingestion. Just sayin’/

    My guess is that the excess of capsacin triggered a massive inflammatory response which caused cardiac arrest or blood clots – that caused cardiac arrest. Or, as House would say, maybe it was Lupus.

    Also, two thumbs up for everything #14 said.

  7. #16 – The pepper spray comments were in response to #4, who was linking to an article on how people die after being pepper sprayed. Apologies if I was not clear on the distinction; the point I was trying to get at was exactly yours, that inhalation != ingestion.

    And, as I said, physicist, not a toxicologist/chemist/etc, so I was pretty sure my numbers would be bad – if you wanted me to compute the required amount of chili he’d have needed to eat in order to reach escape velocity, I could do that, although the work has been done already ( – the point I was trying to make was that it’d be crazy hard to die from too much flava without some preexisting condition.

  8. as a person who loves habanero peppers ( the hottest there is) i can tell you, if you ever eat something too gawdawful hot, a spoonfull of sour cream, or ice cream will cool it off. the dairy closes the taste buds that the capsaisin opens wide, and helps to settle the tummy. spice is good! but be sure to take precautions.

  9. “…intense discomfort and itching”

    My money’s on an anaphylactic reaction, aka Type I allergic reaction. The time of onset is consistent with Type I, and a Type I reaction can be fatal. If I had seen it I would have called 911 (or whatever number they dial in the UK to access emergency services) or transported him to the nearest ER.

  10. Whenever Boing Boing has one of these sorts of posts, I try to set an over/under on how how many comments it will take until someone hits the obvious Simpsons reference. Today it was eight. I guessed five. Next time, though, I’ll remember to include time needed to google the exact quote.

  11. #20 African swallows are bigger, so as opposed to the solution commonly used in re distance traveled while bearing disproportionately large semi-spherical objects (Python et al, 1975), they would most likely be at a disadvantage when attempting to make it into orbit. However, if two or more Petrochelidon spilodera were to link up with string, it has been shown (Arthur, Ph.D., GBE) that it is in fact possible.

  12. I knew someone whose dad, a firefighter in perfect health, died suddenly from what all his friends were calling “killer heartburn”. He ate some greasy food, fell asleep on his stomach, and his stomach acid filled his lungs and killed him. Or at least that’s very close to the truth, although I don’t know the medical specifics.

  13. I don’t know what killed the guy. I believe, however, that really hot food can kill you.

    I like fairly spicey food. For instance, I can eat the hottest wings that any chain (like Buffalo Wild Wings) can offer without any problem. I can put wasabi onto sushi and grin ear to ear. I don’t like extremely hot food, but I can stand spicier food than just about anyone I know. (But then, most people I know don’t like food that is at all spicey.)

    I once tried a drop–one single drop–of a salsa made from habaneros that were boiled down, and then boiled down again, and then boiled down again, until they were about as concentrated as possible. There was a little bowl to sample in a store, and there was a sign saying, essentially, “This stuff is REALLY hot, and we’re not kidding–HOT–so be very careful.”

    One drop. I thought I was going to pass out. My entire head felt like it was in flames. For a period of fifteen or twenty minutes I fought back a rising sense of panic. My face flushed beet red and I started sweating like a freight train. Finally, gradually, the burning went away, and after another half an hour I was back to normal.

    If I’d really loaded up a chip with a bunch of the stuff, I think I would have ended up in a hospital.

    Any boastful pretension I might have once had of how I could handle hot food ended that day. When a sign says, “This stuff is REALLY HOT” I beat a hasty retreat.

  14. As someone who has suffered from anaphylactic shock, I think Michaelrn @19 has it right. I’ve had attacks characterized by intense itching followed by syncope, or as civilians call it, fainting. Not pretty when it happens on the subway, but it’d be a whole lot worse if swelling had closed off my airway. I can easily imagine that happening to this poor fellow.

    Michaelrn is also quite right about getting to the ER. I don’t travel now without an EpiPen.

  15. #14, Chorske:

    I think you mean Scoville, not ‘Scofield’.

    The LD50 is the oral dose at which 50% of subjects died, not the dose at which individuals have a 50% chance of dying

    These two things are effectively the same- if an individual is picked at random from a population similar to that tested for LD50, and given a dose identical to the LD50, there is indeed a 50% chance that it will be lethal.

    But yes, LD50 is an extremely blunt instrument.

  16. Mastar Mahan: Which may be difficult… because after 20 years EVERYTHING can be a Simpsons reference.

  17. I eat chillies almost everyday. Never once have I felt itchy, nor have I ever heard of anyone feeling itchy after eating chillies. No matter how hot that chili was, it’s *NOT* normal to feel itchy afterwards.

    Constant exposure builds up resistance. I normally eat lots of Cayenne, Thai Peppers, and Indian Green Chillies. Way more than anyone else in my family. One day, one of our neighbours gave us a Naga Jolokia. Just one. A single fruit, 2cm long. I cut it into small tiny pieces. It was hot. Even my fingertips felt hot from just touching the cut pieces.

    This chilli felt just at hot to me as to anyone else in my family. After receiving (and eating) a few more of this, I started to build resistance to this as well. I think the active compound is slightly different in different variants.

    I don’t believe you can kill yourself by eating too much chilli. You’ve to get it past your mouth first. It’s like committing suicide by holding your breath. Not do-able.

Comments are closed.