DENVER – There are new questions about the safety of competitive eating, after a popular food challenged turned deadly at a Denver restaurant.
Travis Malouff died early Sunday morning inside the lobby of Voodoo Doughnut on Colfax Ave. His mother, Kay, told FOX31 her son was out having fun with his friends when he decided to attempt the Tex-Ass Challenge.
The Tex-Ass is a half-pound glazed doughnut, made from the batter that would go into half a dozen regular sized donuts. Customers have to consume the whole thing in 80 seconds to win their money back.
The man’s mother said his friends performed the Heimlich Maneuver and CPR but were not able to free the donut. Malouff was pronounced dead around 2 a.m.
Also on Sunday, Caitlin Nelson, a 20-year-old student at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut choked and died during a pancake eating contest during Greek Week.
“People don’t think about the hazards of an eating contest until it’s too late,” former Denver area competitive eater Bryan Beard told FOX31.
Beard says there is a dark side to the world of competitive eating that is often overlooked.
“I’ve choked to the point where I had to reach down and pull it out of my throat,” he told FOX31. “Every competitive eater has choked. It happens.”
There is a big difference between sanctioned professional eating contests and many local food challenges, including Voodoo’s Tex-Ass Challenge.
“You’re not allowed to do anything eating unless there was medical personnel present and that’s because it’s all about safety first. Safety is a big thing when it comes to the world of Major League eating,” Beard said.
According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, Colorado does not require restaurant staff to be trained in CPR, First Aid or the Heimlich maneuver. There are no additional state mandated safety requirements in the case of an eating competition.
Some restaurants require customers to sign a waiver before participating in an eating challenge. It is unclear if Voodoo had Malouff sign a waiver.
“As an eater, you do understand what you’re getting yourself into,” Beard said. “But you don’t think of it when you’re entering these contests. You’re like, I can eat this doughnut in 80 seconds. Absolutely.”
In a statement, the company said, “Our hearts go out to the Malouff family during this very difficult time. We have suspended the eating challenge in all our locations. While this matter is under investigation, we believe it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
Beard says he hopes people will not be discouraged from entering eating contests. Rather, he hopes to educate the public on safe practices.
Even though it’s a cliché, his best advice is to not bite off more than you can chew. You should keep your cheeks clear of food at all times and only take another bite after you’ve swallowed the previous bite.
He also suggests you keep plenty of water around to wash food down.
Lastly, have a conversation with restaurant staff and others around you to make sure someone knows how to help properly if you do begin choking.