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FDA to probe use of caffeine in food products

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The Food and Drug Administration announced Friday said it will investigate whether it is safe for food manufacturers to add caffeine to their products.

A growing number of products contain the stimulant, and the agency particularly is worried about the possible effect on children and adolescents.

Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioners for foods and veterinary medicine, said caffeine is being added to everything from sunflower seeds to gum, jelly beans and marshmallows, according to an interview posted on the FDA’s website.

“One pack of this gum is like having four cups of coffee in your pocket. … The proliferation of these products in the marketplace is very disturbing to us,” he said.

He said the agency has reached out to groups like the American Beverage Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association to air their concerns and understand the industry’s rationale for adding caffeine to various foods or energy drinks.

In 2010, the FDA was able to force some companies to withdraw beverages that mixed caffeine and alcohol, citing the combination’s deleterious health effects.

The agency says an adult should consume no more than about 400 milligrams of caffeine, roughly four to five cups of coffee.

He said the agency is more focused on the marketing of caffeinated products to youth, but admitted that placing age restrictions on caffeinated products “would be challenging.”

“Manufacturers can add [caffeine] to products if they decide it meets the relevant safety standards, and if they include it on the ingredient list,” Mr. Taylor said. “While various uses may meet federal food safety standards, the only time FDA explicitly approved adding caffeine was for colas in the 1950s. Existing rules never anticipated the current proliferation of caffeinated products.”

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