Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor said this week that the agency “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.” According to Taylor, “[t]he only time that FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food was for cola and that was in the 1950s.” He acknowledged that in today’s environment children and adolescents can be exposed to the substance “beyond anything FDA envisioned when it made the determination regarding caffeine in cola.”

In 2010, FDA warned companies producing alcoholic malt beverages that the added caffeine was an unsafe additive and that seizure of their products was possible under federal law. The companies ceased producing the caffeinated products. Additional information about the 2010 initiative appears in Issue 373 of this Update. Congressional representatives have called on the agency to review the safety of energy drinks, which purportedly contain high levels of caffeine, and in late 2012, FDA indicated in response that it was then reviewing the potential risks of stimulant ingredients in such products. Details appear in Issue 463 of this Update.

News sources report that caffeine has found its way into foods and beverages ranging from jelly beans, trail mix and potato chips to popcorn, beef jerky, and energy drinks and shots. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Executive Director Michael Jacobson, who has long urged FDA to take action on the proliferating use of caffeine, said, “Could caffeinated macaroni and cheese or breakfast cereal be next? 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.” The American Academy of Pediatrics has reportedly indicated that caffeine has been associated with adverse effects on children’s developing neurological and cardiovascular systems. See FDA.gov Statement and CSPI News Release, April 29, 2013; cnbc.com, April 30, 2013.