WASHINGTON -- Trail mix. Potato chips. And now gum.
With a growing number of foods boasting added caffeine for an energy boost, the Food and Drug Administration says it's time to investigate their safety.
The FDA's new look at added caffeine and its effects on children and adolescents is in response to a caffeinated gum introduced this week by Wrigley called Alert Energy Gum.
The agency is already investigating the safety of energy drinks and energy shots, prompted by consumer reports of illness and death.
Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner of foods, said yesterday that the current proliferation of caffeine added to foods is "disturbing." "We're concerned about whether they have been adequately evaluated."
Taylor said the agency will look at the potential impact on children's health and will take action if necessary. He said that he and other FDA officials have held meetings with some of the large food companies producing caffeinated products, including Mars Co., which owns Wrigley.
Wrigley and other companies adding caffeine to their products have labeled them as for adult use only. A spokeswoman for Wrigley, Denise M. Young, said the gum is for "adults who are looking for foods with caffeine for energy" and each piece contains about 40 mg, or the equivalent amount found in half a cup of coffee.
Critics say it's not enough for the companies to say they are marketing the products to adults when the caffeine is added to items like candy that are attractive to children. Major medical associations have warned that too much caffeine can be dangerous for children, who have less ability to process the stimulant than adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics says caffeine has been linked to harmful effects on young people's developing neurological and cardiovascular systems.