FoodFacts.com has been keeping close watch on the controversial topic of energy drinks during the last year. The issue of caffeine (and hidden caffeine) in those drinks has become a major concern for consumers due to a spate of energy-drink related hospital emergencies and even some fatalities. Sadly, during that same time period, many food companies have been manufacturing and promoting other food products with added caffeine.

Wrigley has suspended production on their new Alert Energy Gum … chewing gum with added caffeine, just as the FDA announced that they will be investigating the safety of added caffeine and its effects on children and adolescents. They are already investigating the safety of energy drinks and have now added other food products to their list of caffeine concerns.

Caffeine has the regulatory classification of “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, which means manufacturers can add it to products and then determine on their own whether the product is safe. The addition of caffeine to gum and other products is raising questions about whether or not GRAS is working for consumers.

Caffeine is not a new an unusual ingredient. It is, however, currently available to consumers in food products in which it is not usually found. The major concern is how easy it is for children and adolescents to consume these products and the effects those products could have on the health of the younger generations. While Wrigley’s has stated that their caffeinated gum is for adult use only, gum is a product that’s pretty popular with kids. And they could be adversely affected by the 40 mg of caffeine in each piece (about the amount found in a half cup of coffee).

Caffeine can be found in some jelly beans, trail mix, potato chips and other snack foods. While manufacturers state that the marketing of those products is directed towards adults, it’s pretty obvious that candy and snacks are appealing to children. We already know that too much caffeine can be a danger for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that caffeine has been linked to harming developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems. While one serving of a product with added caffeine wouldn’t be harmful, it is concerning that kids could be consuming an unsafe amount of caffeine over the course of any given day if it is added to products like candy and gum.

While the FDA acknowledges that the reports it has received regarding illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths after the consumption of energy drinks do not prove that the drinks caused the injuries or fatalities, it is fairly obvious that they are related in some form. The agency has stated that it would take action if they could link these incidents directly to the consumption of energy drinks.

FoodFacts.com likes a good cup of coffee as much as anyone. But we don’t think that adding caffeine to products that are attractive to children and young teens makes sense – especially when we’re talking about gum, candy or other snack products. We’re happy that Wrigley’s halted the production of its “energy gum.” It was the right thing to do. The disturbing reports regarding energy drinks are frightening enough. We look forward to the results of the FDA investigations of added caffeine and its harmful effects.

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