Regulatory bodies are looking at energy drinks and consumer health

Wednesday, 09 April, 2014



Regulatory bodies and consumer groups are taking a closer look at links between energy drinks and health issues - especially for younger consumers.

In late 2013, a supermarket in the UK decided to restrict the sale of high-caffeine energy drinks in 2014 to customers who can prove that they are 16 years or older. This is in accordance with the code of practice from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) and guidance from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that children should consume caffeine in moderation. Additionally, the BSDA code specifies that soft drinks containing more than 150 mg/L of caffeine are required to be labelled ‘high caffeine content’ with the quantity of caffeine expressed as mg/100 mL as well as the recommended statement of “not suitable for children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine”. The BSDA code of practice also states that these drinks may not be promoted or marketed to persons who are less than 16 years of age.

New energy drinks regulation in the European Union

On 13 December 2014, Food Information Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 becomes applicable across the European Union (EU). This states that if more than 150 mg/L of caffeine is added to beverages for a physiological effect, the beverages must be labelled, “High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women”. This does not affect tea or coffee, which remain exempt from the effect of the regulation.

The EU Scientific Committee on Food reviewed the effects of caffeine intake in 1999 and 2003 and concluded that 300 mg of caffeine for a 60 kg person could result in temporary behavioural changes in some people, causing irritability, nervousness or anxiety. The UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment research review showed that consumption of too much caffeine might result in babies having low birth weight. The FSA advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake to 200 mg per day.

US FDA categorisation of energy drinks

In the US, caffeine is permitted in cola-type soft drinks at a maximum of 0.02% caffeine or 20 mg/100 mL. Because of the caffeine level in energy drinks as well as additional additives such as taurine and glucuronolactone, which are not permitted in beverages in the US, energy drinks in the US are usually marketed as ‘Dietary Supplements’. The US FDA recently published its final guidance as to when a liquid product is a dietary supplement or a beverage (food). Currently no warnings are required on these products in the US.

The US FDA does have some inconsistency for stimulant drug products in the US, with caffeine levels of 100 mg per tablet requiring specific warnings, such as “Do not give to children under 12 years age” and “The recommended dose of this product contains about much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Limit the use of caffeine-containing medication, foods, or beverages while taking this product because too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and occasionally rapid heartbeat”.

Energy drinks in Australia

In Australia, caffeine is a food additive and standard 2.6.4 of the Australia New Zealand Food Code Standard limits the maximum amount of caffeine to 320 mg/L. Additional labelling is required to indicate that these products are not suitable for young children, pregnant or lactating women and individuals sensitive to caffeine. An advisory statement is to be included to limit consumption to 500 mL (2 cans) per day.

In a recent study, the University of Bonn in Germany imaged the hearts of 17 people one hour after they had an energy drink and found that contractions of the heart were more forceful.

There are positives for some of the ingredients in energy drinks. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an opinion on the safety of taurine and glucuronolactone in energy drinks and concluded that these two ingredients did not pose a safety concern to adults and children, at the levels being used currently in energy drinks. In a study published by John Hopkins University on 12 January 2014, in the journal Nature Neuroscience, it was noted that caffeine enhances certain memories at least up to 24 hours after it is consumed. The conclusion drawn was that caffeine is useful for keeping a person awake and can also enhance short-term memory.

SGS Food Safety Services
www.foodsafety.sgs.com

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