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General Food Safety

Do you have a cure for pain due to handling these raw peppers?

Rating: 94

We recommend that you wear plastic gloves while handling hot peppers AND wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before touching your face. In this instance, the only option would be to wash the hands several times (the capsaicin was probably already absorbed into the skin and so washing would have limited effect) or soak the hands in milk. Milk might have a neutralizing effect on the capsaicin. Mostly the individual will simply have to wait until the pain goes away. Capsaicin is the substance (it is an oil in peppers) that makes the pepper hot and can cause this reaction of the skin. In fact, capsaicin is used in some prescription creams to reduce pain and symptoms due to arthritis and eczema. Consumers might read about these creams and believe that they can "create" this type of cream and home. Warn them that they CANNOT. Chilis are rated by Scoville Units, which is a measurement of capsaicin levels. Although peppers can vary from pod to pod and plant to plant, listed below is an approximate scale for several varieties of peppers.

0 units - bell peppers, pimento 500 to 1,000 units - new mexica 1,000 to 1,500 units - ancho, pasilla, Espanola 1,500 to 2,500 units - sandia, cascabel 2,500 to 5,000 units - jalapeno, mirasol, chipolte 5,000 to 15,000 units - Serrano 15,000 to 30,000 units - de arbol 30,000 to 50,000 units - piquin, cayenne, Tabasco 50,000 to 100,000 units - chiltepin, thai 100,000 to 300,000 units - habanero, scotch bonnet

Another suggestion from a person who works in a chili packing plant in New Mexico. Soak your hands in white vinegar. This apparently "leaches" the chili oil from the pores of the skin and seems to give some relief. Apparently, after the pores of skin close, i.e., cold water, cold milk, etc. the capsaicin oil is trapped under the pores. The next day, after a shower, or working with your hands, the pores open and once more the oil is released. It took about 4 days for this person's hands to get back to feeling normal. Another caller reported that she discovered a "remedy" by accident. She made biscuits that night from a mix such as Jiffy or Bisquick. Working with the dough and getting it all over her hands gave her hands relief from the sting of the hot peppers. Perhaps mixing plain flour and shortening together (maybe adding milk too, as you suggested) and rubbing it over the hands would have similar results.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, NC State University in July 2004

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