THE fix of a morning cup of coffee has long been a daily necessity for many. But soon, those keen to get their regular hit will not have to restrict their choice to hot drinks but will be able to choose from a selection of foods with added caffeine.
Such products have caused controversy in the US, where the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the safety of food such as beef jerky, sunflower seeds and breakfast waffles.
US manufacturers of added-caffeine products told Scotland on Sunday they were actively looking to sell their wares in the UK, and a spokesman for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) said there was nothing to prevent them doing so.
Health experts fear such products could prove as addictive to consumers as coffee.
Last week, an inquest heard how a man died after eating energy mints packed with caffeine. John Jackson was found dead in his flat in the West Midlands in May after consuming Hero Instant Energy Mints. A single mint is said to contain as much caffeine as a 250ml can of Red Bull or two cups of coffee, about 80mg. Coroner Robin Balmain said the sale of such products created a “potentially very dangerous situation” and he would write to the Department of Health to raise his concerns.
A post-mortem showed Jackson had 155mg of caffeine per litre of blood in his system, and just 10mg would have been considered an overdose.
UK authorities said they have no legal recourse to stop products with added caffeine being sold in Britain.
The makers of snack food brand Perky Jerky – a dried beef product – said it was “certainly looking into expanding” into British stores, while the company behind South Dakota-based Sumseeds said it was also pursuing bringing its products – a range of flavoured and caffeinated sunflower seeds – to the UK.
The products are marketed at people who do not like coffee or other caffeine-rich products or who want to limit their fluid intake, such as long-haul lorry drivers, but who crave the “boost” caffeine induces.
“People eat them perhaps in the afternoon when they don’t drink coffee, or in situations where they want to minimise their liquid intake,” said Tim Walter of Dakota Valley Products, which makes Sumseeds.
“Long-distance drivers need something to stay awake and a lot of them eat sunflower seeds for the hand-to-mouth activity which does provide some ‘stay awake’ stimulus, so it only makes sense to add the energy components to something they are already consuming. In [such] situations minimising the need to take breaks to get rid of the liquid in coffee or energy drinks is an advantage.”
Other US companies have recently launched caffeinated products such as Wired Waffles, which offers a range of caffeinated instant snacks and accompanying syrup, and Morning Spark oatmeal, which as well as caffeine claims to contain added vitamin C.
“It is just a trick,” said Professor Mike Lean, head of human nutrition at Glasgow University. “If you put caffeine into anything, it is addictive, so people want to consume and buy more of the product. The danger comes when you build up the levels of caffeine in the body, especially for children, pregnant women or some older people.”
He added: “The authorities should stamp down on the practice of putting caffeine into other products.”
Professor Jack James, editor of the Journal Of Caffeine Research, said the health effects of the drug were only just becoming widely known and warned an increase in caffeinated products would add to the problem. He said excessive consumption of the drug had been linked to heart problems, disruption of sleep and even fatal poisonings.
“Although caffeine has been widely considered to be benign, awareness is increasing that its consumption is associated with substantial harm, including fatalities and near-fatalities,” he said.
A spokesman for the FSA said: “There is no regulated limit on the amount of caffeine foods may contain, but legislation is in place requiring drinks containing caffeine in excess of 150mg per litre to be labelled with the term ‘high caffeine content’ in the same field of vision as the name of the food and an indication of the amount of caffeine per 100ml of the product,” he said.
Earlier this year, production of a caffeinated chewing gum made by Wrigley’s was halted in the US following discussions with authorities.
“After discussions with the FDA, we have a greater appreciation for its concern about the proliferation of caffeine in the nation’s food supply,” the company said.
Energy drinks, which can contain up to 400mg of caffeine – five times that of an espresso – have come under fire in recent months from campaigners who believe that they are marketed at children.
A poll for the Make Mine Milk campaign found one in 20 teenagers goes to school on a can of energy drink rather than a proper breakfast.