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Is it safe? Gum, other snacks getting a caffeine boost

Most of us enjoy a morning coffee to get the day started, or a bottle of Mountain Dew to help get through the afternoon. Caffeine is part of most of our lives and generally is not thought of as being dangerous. But it can be dangerous if it is used in excess, especially in young people.

In recent years, artificially caffeinated drinks have been tied to negative health effects and even death. Between 2004 and 2012, five people died after consuming Monster energy drinks, according to data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Twenty-one people experienced “adverse effects” after drinking Red Bull during the same time period.

The FDA announced this week that it will reexamine the safety of caffeine added to foods. Wrigley’s release of a new caffeinated gum, Alert, prompted the decision. Each stick contains 40 mg of caffeine – half the amount in an 8.4 ounce can of Red Bull. Wrigley says Alert is “a new energy product available for adults 25-49 that lets people control the amount of caffeine they want on –the-go.” But what is to stop teens from buying the gum and chewing too much of it?

The FDA hasn’t examined caffeine as a food additive since the 1950s when the agency set a limit on the amount that could be added to colas. The agency put caffeine on its list of ingredients that are “generally recognized as safe” as long as it contains .02 percent or less of a cola beverage. The FDA has never regulated caffeine in other contexts.

Drinks and gums are not the only products getting a caffeine boost. For example, Jelly Belly “Sport Beans” have 50 mg of caffeine in each 100-calorie snack. Arma Energy Snx markets trail mix, chips and other products with added caffeine.

Because of the influx of products with caffeine additions, the FDA decided it was time to take a fresh look at what impact these new sources of caffeine might have, especially on children and adolescents. Major medical associations have warned that too much caffeine can be dangerous for children, because they have less ability to process the stimulant. The American Academy of Pediatrics says caffeine has been linked to harmful effects on young people’s developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.

Parents need to be aware of what their children are consuming, but companies must be responsible about what products they offer and how they market them.