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FDA to Investigate Safety of Added Caffeine

Move prompted by release of new caffeinated gum

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday that it will reexamine the safety of caffeine added to foods.

The decision was prompted by the release of a new caffeinated gum called Alert, manufactured by Wrigley, which hit markets Monday.

The last time FDA looked at caffeine as a food additive was in the 1950s when the agency set a limit on the amount of the substance that could be added to colas. Caffeine is on the agency’s list of ingredients that are  “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) when it comprises .02 percent of a cola beverage, but has not been regulated in other contexts.

“Today, the market has changed,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine in a statement posted on the agency’s website Monday. “Children and adolescents may be exposed to caffeine beyond those foods in which caffeine is naturally found and beyond anything FDA envisioned when it made the determination regarding caffeine in cola.”

And while caffeinated gum has just landed on store shelves, artificially caffeinated beverages have been stirring controversy for years, as they have been tied to adverse health effects and even death.

Energy drinks are often exempt from the .02 percent limit because they are considered dietary supplements rather than food or drink.

Between 2004 and 2012, five people died after consuming Monster drinks, according to data from FDA. During this time period, 21 people experienced “adverse effects” after drinking Red Bull, although no deaths were reported.

In Canada, three deaths were reported after the consumption of Red Bull between 2003 and 2012.

A death or adverse health effect after consuming a product does not definitively prove that it was caused by the product, but these events have raised questions about the safety of caffeinated beverages.

Because so many artificially caffeinated food and drinks have hit the market since the time FDA considered caffeine in cola, “FDA is taking a fresh look at the potential impact that the totality of new and easy sources of caffeine may have on the health of children and adolescents, and if necessary, will take appropriate action,” said Taylor. 

According to Wrigley, Alert is not targeted towards young people, but is “a new energy product available for adults 25-49 that lets people control the amount of caffeine they want on-the-go.”

However, there is no age minimum for purchasing the gum.

Each stick of Alert contains 40 milligrams of caffeine – half of the amount found in an 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull energy drink.

The federal watchdog organization Center for Science in the Public Interest questioned the safety of Alert,  and said the new product stressed the need for regulation of added caffeine.

“Could caffeinated macaroni and cheese or breakfast cereal be next?” asked CSPI’s executive director Michael Jacobson in a statement Monday. “One serving of any of these foods isn’t likely to harm anyone. The concern is that it will be increasingly easy to consume caffeine throughout the day, sometimes unwittingly, as companies add caffeine to candies, nuts, snacks and other foods. And that’s on top of the soda, coffee, tea, and energy drinks that are already widely consumed.” 

© Food Safety News
  • Caffeine is safely consumed by billions of people around the world and is found in a wide variety of products. It’s also worth noting that the FDA commissioned a report on caffeine consumption (which they updated in 2010) that showed teens and young adults ages 14-21 only consume about a third of the caffeine of people who are over 21 (about 100 milligrams per day).

  • Veronica

    I am glad that finally the FDA will examine this deeply, I can see my nephews (teenagers) and their friends drinking energy drinks to get “buzz”. I think the whole society should become more concern about how caffeine can be so dangerous. On the other hand, people is becoming lazy and instead of following a proper nutrition and eat naturally energy meals, they skip breakfast and then drink or in this case chew energized items.

  • John

    Shame on Wrigley.

  • RsGoat

    I am sorry for the loss of these 5 Canadians over an 8 year time frame but some how that seems like a statistically small amount when you bounce that off the population of how many million? Consider the numbers lost to peanut butter breath and bee stings over the same time frame. Continue to check this gum and it’s additives out but let’s not let hysterical people drive the bus. The Saccrine Scare of the 1970’s was driven by a competitor company that wanted a market share.