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Caffeine coming to Cracker Jacks, critics howl

7:11 PM, Nov 16, 2012   |    comments
Packaging for Cracker Jack'd (Ad Age)
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(USA Today) -- Frito-Lay confirmed Friday that it plans to introduce a line of Cracker Jacks by the end of this year that contains coffee, a move the Center for Science in the Public Interest is fighting.

The new line of snacks, called Cracker Jack'd, will contain coffee, be labeled as containing coffee and caffeine and marketed only to adults, Frito-Lay said in a statement.

It will contain snack mixes, popcorn clusters and "Power Bites" wafers. Two of the Power Bites products will have flavors that will contain coffee.

Frito-Lay said it expects Power Bites will contain approximately 70 milligrams of caffeine from coffee in each 2-ounce package.

CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson asked the Food and Drug Administration to look into Cracker Jack'd because he believed it violated the agency rules. But when he learned the snacks contain coffee - not pure caffeine - he was preparing to send a new letter Friday.

According to a draft he gave USA TODAY, Jacobson warns that there's "a new craze in which food manufacturers add caffeine (as a pure chemical or as a component of coffee) to a wide range of products."

He says some "appear to violate" FDA's determination that caffeine is "generally recognized as safe only in cola-type beverages at concentrations of 0.02% or less (about 48 milligrams per 8 fluid ounces)."

Along with Cracker Jack'd, Jacobson cited:

• Kraft Foods' caffeinated versions of its MiO "water enhancer."

• Kraft's Crystal Light Energy, which contains 60 mg of added caffeine.

• Jelly Belly's "Extreme Sport Beans," which have 50 mg in each 1-ounce packet.

• Arma Energy Snx's line of snack foods such as granola and potato chips that contain caffeine.

• ThinkGeek.com's Energy products, including Gummi Bears, brownies, mints and maple syrup, that contain caffeine.

FDA spokeswoman Carla Daniels says caffeine must be declared as an ingredient if it's added to foods. For conventional foods, the addition of caffeine up to 200 parts per million in colas is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) under FDA's regulations, she says. Although this regulation specifies the level of caffeine considered safe in colas, Daniels says it doesn't preclude the use of caffeine in other foods or automatically consider it safe.

The news comes as highly caffeinated energy drinks and shots have come under increasing fire after reports this week that 5-Hour Energy shots have been linked to 13 deaths in FDA "adverse event" reports. Last month, Monster Energy drinks, which don't list the caffeine content on the label, were linked to five deaths and one heart attack in reports to the FDA.

"Besides energy drinks, I have heard of caffeine being added to candy, sprays, lip gloss, gum, bars, just to name a few, and now Cracker Jack?" says Jim Shepherd, whose 15-year-old son, Brian, died in 2008 after drinking a Red Bull energy drink free sample after a paintball tournament. "There may be a surprise in the box that no one would want to see for their child."

Barbara Crouch executive director of the Utah Poison Control Center, says the increase of caffeine in foods such as Cracker Jack'd "given the other news about reports of adverse consequences of several different energy drinks ... is a recipe for more problems."

"The big problem, in addition to the potential for consuming many, many products with caffeine - which most people consider safe - is the risk is enhanced in individuals with underlying cardiovascular disease or seizures or who are on other stimulants," says Crouch, also a clinical professor at the University of Utah's college of pharmacy.

But Richard Berman - who heads the policy firm Berman & Co., which represents food and restaurant companies he won't name - says the focus on caffeine goes too far.

"If we start banning small amounts of caffeine in consumer products, how can we allow coffee, tea and chocolate to go unregulated?" asks Berman. "This is simply the latest hype from the CSPI that is always looking for some new food alert to trigger a hysterical press release."

Shepherd says more government action is needed - both in Canada, where he lives, and the U.S.

"It is time regulators stand up, and stop industry from marketing potentially dangerous products such as this for profit, at the cost of our children's health," Shepherd says. "Our children are just too valuable for us to continue to allow this to happen."

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