Now, don’t panic, but there is a lethal limit of hot sauce. Well, at least there is a limit in theory. There’s no record of a person ever drinking hot sauce to death, and very few cases of lethal pepper exposure. But you’re not going to run into the limit just dashing hot sauce on your MRE, no matter how poorly spiced the components are out of the packaging.
An Army lieutenant general visits with his troops, but they can’t stop thinking about the hot sauces on their table that they’d rather be spending time with.
(U.S. Army Master Sgt. Mark Woelzlein)
The potentially dangerous chemical in Tabasco is the spice which gives it the punch: capsaicin. It’s the same stuff that’s in some pepper sprays and mace. Acute capsaicin poisoning usually comes after people handle or eat a lot of extremely hot chili peppers. There are a few cases of lethal poisoning from chili powders, but that’s extremely rare. A 1980 study estimated that you would need three pounds of an extreme chili powder to suffer a lethal dose.
Tabasco is a bit more diluted than straight peppers, and much less concentrated than the most potent chili powders. Tabasco has between 100 and 300 mg of Capaiscin per kilogram.
And researchers have estimated the lethal dose of a human at between 60 and 190mg/kg (that’s based on mouse research, though). A 180-pound Marine weighs just over 81.5 kilograms. And so he or she would need to eat just over 15.5 grams of straight capsaicin.
In a 1982 study, scientists studied the lethal dose of not just capsaicin, but Tabasco in particular. Using their estimates, half of Marines/adults weighing 150 pounds would be killed if they consumed 1,400 ml. That’s over 40 ounces of Tabasco. Yup, you would need to switch out the 40 of beer after work for one of Tabasco to get a lethal dose.
And those packets in MREs? Those are about 1/8 an ounce each, so over 320 packets all at once. And the death would not be pretty.
Rats in that 1982 study suffered hypothermia, tachypnoea, and lethargy. Capsaicin poisoning is also associated with extreme gastrointestinal distress, internal swelling, diarrhea, vomiting and more. It’s not a pretty way to go.