Boxes of Cracker Jack are famous for having a toy surprise inside. But what parent suspects that Cracker Jack might come with a surprising dose of a mildly addictive stimulant drug? A soon-to-be-introduced new version of that classic, kid-friendly snack does, in fact, have added caffeine—something that the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest says is a violation of Food and Drug Administration regulations. CSPI says that if government regulators don’t take some kind of action, products like Frito-Lay’s Cracker Jack’d could set off a new craze in which manufacturers add caffeine to more and more varieties of foods and beverages.
The FDA considers caffeine safe for use in cola-type beverages up to 0.02 percent. The lack of a standard for other products makes its use in those illegal, according to CSPI. In a letter to the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson alerted the agency to Cracker Jack’d, Kraft’s caffeinated “water enhancer” MiO Energy, and caffeinated “Extreme Sports Beans” marketed by the Jelly Belly Candy Company.
“Unless the FDA begins enforcing its regulations, I fear that we’ll see caffeine being added to ever-more improbable drinks and snacks, putting children, unsuspecting pregnant women, and others at risk,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “How soon before we have caffeinated burgers, burritos, or breakfast cereals?”
MiO Energy comes in 32 and 48 milliliter squirt bottles that dispense half-teaspoon-sized servings intended to flavor water, according to the label. Each serving has 60 milligrams of caffeine, about as much as a small cup of coffee. In a letter to Kraft, Jacobson said young children might enjoy squirting two or three times as much MiO Energy into water.
“It is relevant to note that several state and city attorneys general and United States senators recently expressed concern about the caffeine content and marketing of energy drinks,” Jacobson wrote. “Those products are marketed mostly to teens and young adults and have reportedly been associated with several deaths.”
MiO Energy appears to be formulated with many of the same ingredients as other “energy” drinks. Besides caffeine, MiO Energy (in the Black Cherry variety) contains water, citric acid, propylene glycol, taurine, guarana extract, ginseng extract, niacinamide, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, the artificial sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame potassium, sodium citrate, potassium citrate, Red 40, Blue 1, and potassium sorbate. A Green Thunder variety is identical but has Yellow 5 instead of Red 40.
It’s unclear exactly how much caffeine is in Cracker Jack’d, though the labeling suggests a serving has as much as a cup of coffee.
“Whether or not they are advertised directly to children, it is certain that young children will consume Cracker Jack’d… and sometimes consume it to excess,” Jacobson wrote executives at Frito-Lay and parent company PepsiCo. Both MiO Energy and Cracker Jack’d have fine print on labels saying the products are inappropriate for children but CSPI told the companies that that’s not sufficient to prevent children from consuming them.
Effects of caffeine include anxiety, restlessness, irritability, excitability, and insomnia, according to CSPI. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of caffeine and other stimulant substances in the diets of children and adolescents.
“Additional concerns regarding the use of caffeine in children include its effects on the developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems and the risk of physical dependence and addiction,” the AAP says. “Because of the potentially harmful adverse effects and developmental effects of caffeine, dietary intake should be discouraged for all children.”