It’s a normal part of human life to wonder about whether or not eating an excess of condiments could be lethal—specifically about the amount of ketchup it would take to not only disfigure you but take you to the big tomato patch in the sky. Well, your nightly wondering is over, and we’ve got an answer.
Earlier this week, a video of two women fighting began making the rounds on social media. The fight is routine at first, but quickly turns very ketchuppy. While the video reminds us that we should (as Death and Taxes points out) make our fights as novel as possible to ensure their success on YouTube, it also raises the question of whether ketchup could be considered a lethal weapon. Or at least it did for me.
When I brought this up at work, Kate Dries, Jezebel’s resident ketchup militant, began condemning the amount of ketchup used in this fight as a “waste of product.” Knowing that Kate is a champion of efficiency who is also capable of murder, my mission became clear: to discover how much ketchup would be too much ketchup.
My first cry for help was to the Heinz Ketchup empire. While it’s not clear that the unnamed restaurant in the video provides name-brand ketchup for its customers’ needs, many dining establishments pride themselves on carrying Heinz condiments (even if some places do just keep refilling the containers with generic), so this brand was the obvious choice. When Heinz did not respond to my initial request for information—what is big ketchup hiding???—I called the company’s American headquarters directly to get some answers.
After being on hold for less than thirty seconds, my query was picked up by Kierra, who had a hard time with my pointed questions about ketchup’s toxicity and potential lethality. And, she said, she hadn’t even seen the video.
“You’re asking if there’s a lethal dose of Heinz ketchup,” she asked.
“How much ketchup would it take to kill a person?”
“That... is a... great question,” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t have that information.”
“Has that ever happened?”
“I’ve never had any information about that.”
Kierra didn’t have information about whether the contents of a ketchup bottle to the face would scar one for life, either. She placed me on hold to get a manager, but after three minutes of instrumental rock, told me that no one in the office could answer that question. Death by ketchup, it seemed, just hasn’t ever been an issue.
“Who would know?” I asked. “The FDA?.”
Kierra didn’t know that either.
The FDA doesn’t list ketchup as lethal. A search on whether ketchup was toxic or lethal led to initial search results which suggested that more than 2,500mg of ketchup at one time sustained over a long period could potentially cause coma and even death, but that turned out to be information about hydroxyzine (an antihistamine that also functions as an anxiolytic). Ketchup, actually, was listed as non-lethal. But who can trust internet strangers?
Seeking a third opinion (because that’s how you get answers as well as how my mom beat cancer), I contacted the Georgia Poison Center, where I chatted with Robert Geller, MD, a medical toxicologist and the center’s medical director via Lloyd H. a center assistant.
“Per the medical toxicologist, KETCHUP is NOT considered a “POISON” or TOXIN...it is unlikely that someone could physically consume a large enough of ketchup for it to be “toxic” in that sense, but, remember, even WATER, if ingested in very large amounts is considered to be “poisonous” due to the effect it has on sodium levels in the body.”
So it’s possible?
“I don’t think there is a reasonable answer to this question... it may, in fact, be impossible for someone to ingest enough at one time to cause serious injury...but that might also depend on its other ingredients... like salt...”
And what about if, like in the video, ketchup was applied directly to the face and eyeballs by an adversary?
“I would not expect dermal contact to be a problem... though it might be irritating to the eyes... and depending on the pressure it was sprayed, might be more of a concern if it was aspirated somehow into the lungs and respiratory tract.”
So, outside of actually choking someone to death by filling their breathing holes with crushed tomatoes, it seems like ketchup is actually a pretty safe food choice for both fighting and having your face completely submerged in ketchup for sexual reasons, if that’s your thing. Not even the acid in ketchup is really an issue, Geller says. It’s really all about the amount of pressure at which the ketchup is squirted—a plastic bottle would not provide enough—and whether it’s breathed in. Vinegar and the tomato base may irritate the skin and ocular areas, but they won’t cause any serious or lasting harm.
It seems, if you’re looking to kill a human with ketchup, there aren’t enough tomatoes in the world.
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