High caffeine energy drinks and other foods containing caffeine

Energy drinks are generally drinks with high caffeine levels that are claimed by the manufacturers to give the consumer more 'energy' than a typical soft drink.

Energy drinks can contain high levels of caffeine, usually about 80 milligrams (mg) of caffeine in a small 250ml can – the same as three cans of cola or a mug of instant coffee. As well as caffeine, they may contain other ingredients, such as glucuronolactone and taurine, and sometimes vitamins and minerals or herbal substances. Some of the smaller ‘shot style’ products can contain anywhere from 80mg to as much as 175mg of caffeine in a 60ml bottle.

Children, or other people sensitive to caffeine, should only consume caffeine in moderation. Pregnant women are advised not to have more than 200mg of caffeine a day, roughly two mugs of instant coffee. Drinks like espresso and lattes, which are made from ground coffee, typically contain higher levels of caffeine per mug.

Statutory labelling

Drinks containing more than 150mg of caffeine per litre (mg/l) must be labelled with the term 'high caffeine content' in the same field of vision as the name of the food, which must be accompanied by an indication of the amount of caffeine per 100ml in the product. No other labelling is currently required by law and this labelling does not apply to drinks such as tea and coffee.

New labelling legislation, (The Food Information Regulation (EU) 1169/2011) which will apply from 13 December 2014, will require additional caffeine labelling for high caffeine drinks and foods where caffeine is added for a physiological effect. The requirements are listed below:

Beverages, with the exception of those based on coffee, tea or coffee or tea extract where the name of the food includes the term ‘coffee’ or ‘tea’, which:

- are intended for consumption without modification and contain caffeine, from whatever source, in a proportion in excess of 150mg/l,
or
- are in concentrated or dried form and after reconstitution contain caffeine, from whatever source, in a proportion in excess of 150mg/l,
must be labelled with the statement ‘High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women’ in the same field of vision as the name of the beverage, followed by a reference in brackets to the caffeine content expressed in mg per 100ml.

Foods (other than beverages) where caffeine is added for a physiological purpose must be labelled with the statement ‘Contains caffeine. Not recommended for children or pregnant women’ in the same field of vision as the name of the food followed by the amount of caffeine in mg per 100g or ml. This additional labelling will also apply to food supplements containing caffeine: For these the legislation will require the amount of caffeine to be expressed per portion as recommended for daily consumption.

These rules above do not apply to foods (including drinks) where caffeine is added for a flavouring rather than physiological purpose. For these products the term caffeine must appear after the word ‘flavouring(s)’ in the ingredients list.

New controls on the use of flavouring substances will apply from October 2014 (Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 872/2012). Caffeine added to a food for flavouring purposes (rather than for a physiological purpose) will have to comply with the flavouring legislation, which will limit the use to particular foods with associated maximum levels.

Voluntary labelling

The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) published a voluntary Code of Practice in April 2010 that recommends prominent labelling on energy drinks, such as 'Not suitable for children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine'. In addition, the Code of Practice states such drinks may not be promoted or marketed to persons aged under 16.

The science

The EU Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) considered the effects of caffeine intake in 1999 and 2003 and noted that a dose of 5mg caffeine per kilogram bodyweight (300mg for a 60kg person) could result in transient behavioural changes, such as increased arousal, irritability, nervousness or anxiety in some people, particularly if they were normally low consumers of caffeine.

Additionally research reviewed by the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT) has shown that too much caffeine during pregnancy might result in a baby having a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of some health conditions in later life. Therefore the FSA advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine consumption to 200mg per day.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which advises the European Commission on safety matters, published an opinion in 2009 on the safety of taurine and glucuronolactone as individual ingredients of energy drinks. The EFSA opinion concluded that these two ingredients of energy drinks did not pose a safety concern to adults or children at the levels currently used.