FDA official calls caffeinated food 'very disturbing to us'

Federal regulators are troubled by processes that add caffeine to food products, a growing trend over which they currently have little oversight.

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Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Deputy Commissioner for Food and Veterinary Medicine Michael Taylor called caffeine additives in snacks from jellybeans to waffles to energy drinks "very disturbing to us" in an interview posted by the agency on Friday.

This week, Taylor announced that the FDA would investigate the effect that foods with added caffeine have on the public and children's health. He left the door open for future action from the agency, but in the published remarks on Friday he seemed skeptical about the possibility of imposing age restrictions on caffeine.

"While various uses may meet federal food safety standards, the only time FDA explicitly approved adding caffeine was for colas in the 1950s," Taylor said. "Existing rules never anticipated the current proliferation of caffeinated products."

The examination of risks posed by caffeinated foods comes in response to Wrigley's recent launch of Alert Energy Caffeine Gum, a product Taylor called "just one more unfortunate example of the trend to add caffeine to food."

"Millions of Americans consume caffeine responsibly and in moderation as part of their daily routines," Wrigley said in a statement to The Hill. The company asserts that the gum "is developed for adults and will be marketed to consumers 25 and older.

"As the FDA refines its approach to caffeine, we welcome the opportunity to work with them on this important topic."

"This is appropriately their role to look at ingredients that are used in food products and to make sure that they are safe, and particularly when it's a case where you have a potential cumulative effect throughout the day," said Steve Mister, president and chief executive of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, which represents the supplement industry.

The FDA has previously advised that 600 milligrams of the drug, the equivalent of four to seven cups of coffee, can be too much for adults. The stimulant can cause jitteriness and heightened blood pressure, and the FDA warns that overdosing on caffeine can be fatal.

In 2010, the agency urged beverage makers not to add caffeine to alcoholic drinks like Four Loko and Joose, eventually resulting in a change to those products' production.