FDA Seeks to Kick Caffeine Habit in Food Products

The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that in response to a trend in which caffeine is being added to a growing number of products, it will investigate the safety of caffeine in food products, particularly its effects on children and adolescents. Although various uses of caffeine may meet federal food safety standards, the only time the FDA explicitly approved addition of caffeine was for colas in the 1950s. Current FDA regulations did not anticipate the current proliferation of caffeinated products. So far, the agency has only brought about the removal of one type of caffeinated product from the market. In 2010, caffeinated alcoholic beverages were removed because of studies demonstrating that combined ingestion of caffeine and alcohol could lead to hazardous and life-threatening circumstances.

Citing the promotion of a new pack of gum with eight pieces by Wrigley, each containing as much caffeine as half a cup of coffee, Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at FDA noted that the gum was an example of the trend to add caffeine to food. The agency’s concern is the inclusion of caffeine in new products that would be available for consumption by children and adolescents without consideration of any dietary and nutritional impact on those age groups. Taylor further elaborated that one pack of the new gum was similar to consuming four cups of coffee.

Additionally, the agency is concerned that caffeine is being added to items that children-consumable items such as jelly beans, marshmallows, sunflower seeds and other snacks for its stimulant effect. These additional products seem to seek the same success as “energy drinks” with caffeine that are marketed to all age groups.

The FDA seeks to address issues related to the potential consequences of numerous caffeinated products in the food supply to children. Even adults may be at risk from excessive caffeine consumption. The FDA hopes that by communicating with industry and through its investigation it can better understand and potentially determine what would constitute a safe level of total consumption of caffeine.

Currently, the agency has recommended that adults consume no more than 400 milligrams a day—the amount in about four or five cups of coffee—as a value that is not generally associated with negative effects. Although the FDA has not recommended a level of consumption for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics generally discourages consumption of any caffeine and other stimulants by children and adolescents.