Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is again voicing concern about caffeinated foods. The latest in caffeine-laden food trends is a new caffeinated peanut butter which boasts the equivalent of two cups of coffee in two tablespoons of peanut butter. In a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Senator Schumer urged the agency to investigate the effects of an increased presence of caffeinated food products and, in particular, the safety of STEEM’s caffeinated peanut butter product. Schumer is particularly concerned that children could suffer health effects from ingesting too much caffeine (perhaps unknowingly). In 2010, Senator Schumer was involved in the FDA’s decision to send warning letters to four manufacturers of alcoholic beverages containing caffeine because Schumer believed the drinks were packaged to appeal to minors. Those warning letters resulted in each of the four manufacturers ceasing production of their products. Then, earlier this year, Schumer was one of several senators who pushed for a ban on pure powdered caffeine. Now, he urges the agency to consider that an increasing number of “everyday” foods, like Steem Caffeinated Peanut Butter, pose a public health risk, particularly for kids.
According to Schumer, a single serving of STEEM’s peanut butter has more than 5 times the caffeine in a single can of Coke. For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day as a safe amount of caffeine intake (about 4-5 cups of coffee), but there is no safe level cited for children.
The FDA currently does not require food and beverage manufacturers to state the amount of caffeine in their products. Additionally, when a company does state how much caffeine is in their product, the agency does not verify those statements.
The FDA conducted a 2013 investigation into the safety of caffeine in food products and its effects on children. Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, announced the agency’s concern about caffeine appearing in a host of new food products including waffles, gum, jelly beans, and marshmallows. Because these products are particularly attractive to children, the FDA was concerned adolescents would consume more caffeine than they realized.
No products were taken off the market as a result of the 2013 investigation, and there has been no change to the agency’s policy to allow manufacturers to add caffeine to products and determine on their own whether the product is safe. However, in January 2014, the Institute of Medicine issued a report detailing the investigation’s findings, and Taylor believes this report will assist the FDA in its ongoing efforts to investigate the safety of caffeine in food.
Steem Caffeinated Peanut Butter was developed by three friends trying to devise a good hangover cure, according to one of the founders, Andrew Brach. Brach and friends created the caffeinated peanut butter by mixing green-coffee extract and agave sweetener into peanut butter. Steem claims its product’s slower release of energy means consumers can avoid a sugar crash. Since the product’s launch in March 2014, they have sold nearly 6,000 jars online and in some stores in the northeastern U.S.
The FDA hasn’t explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food or drink since the 1950s, when it was added to soda. The FDA likely did not envision the current proliferation of caffeine-added foods and therefore may need to reconsider caffeine’s status as a product “generally recognized as safe.” The FDA may decide to regulate the addition of caffeine to so-called “everyday foods.”