Oh… So This is the Apocalypse: Caffeinated Cracker Jacks to Hit Shelves

So the world didn't end on December 21st despite it being the last date on the Mayan calendar. But if you're still searching for signs that we're hurtling towards an inevitable apocalypse, look no further than Cracker Jack'd—the latest Frito Lay brand offering in the energy food category.

The once-iconic kids snack, Cracker Jacks were loved not just for their sweet and salty mix of peanuts and popcorn, but of course, for the toy surprise found in every box. Now that surprise in the new upgraded version, Cracker Jack'd, is a big burst of caffeine—about the same amount as a cup of coffee (70 milligrams) in a 2-ounce package. According to the company, the product, called Cracker Jack'd Power Bites, will contain coffee as a "natural" source of caffeine.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says the new snack violates federal regulations on adding caffeine to foods, which is generally regarded as a safe addition only in soda or energy type of beverages. Those doses are typically at concentrations of 0.02 percent or less (about 72 mg per 12 oz.), according to the CSPI, which wrote a letter to the FDA about the Frito Lay product (the brand is owned by caffeine-industry giant, Pepsi-Co). The CSPI called caffeine a "mildly addictive stimulant drug that is totally inappropriate to be included in foods consumed by children," with effects including "anxiety, restlessness, irritability, excitability and insomnia." While regulations exist on adding caffeine to foods and beverages, they do not govern adding coffee to foods (such as ice cream or cookies, for example). It's that thin line Pepsi-Co's Frito-Lay division seems to be teetering on with Cracker Jack'd.

According to Advertising Age, a Frito-Lay spokesman said the products are not going to be marketed at children: "Cracker Jack'd is a product line specifically developed for adult consumers and will not be marketed to children. All marketing for the products will be exclusively aimed at adult consumers, and the package design and appearance are wholly different from Cracker Jack to ensure there is no confusion among consumers. The presence of coffee and the caffeine that comes with it is clearly called out on both the front and back of the package."

The CSPI's concerns over caffeine-enhanced foods comes just as the FDA linked the popular 5-Hour Energy brand product as a possible factor in the death of at least 13 people in the past four years. Other energy drinks such as Monster, and the now banned alcoholic energy drink FourLoco, have also been connected with serious adverse reactions and deaths, including the death of a 14-year old girl who reportedly drank two 24-ounce cans of Monster.

And the CSPI says if Cracker Jack'd products are allowed to enter the marketplace, even despite the company's assurance they won't be targeting children, there's no telling how many copycat products could appear. Ad Age reports that CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said in a statement, "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,” adding, "How soon before we have caffeinated burgers, burritos or breakfast cereals?"

Learn more about Jill Ettinger

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