Food Safety Takes 2 Steps Forward—Still a Way to Go

CanWe’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction on two food safety matters that have been in the news lately—alcoholic, caffeinated energy drinks and the Food Safety Modernization Act. Here’s the latest news on these issues.


Alcoholic, caffeinated energy drinks:


The FDA has officially warned Phusion Projects, the distributor of Four Loko, and three other distributors of these drinks—(Moonshot, Joose, and Core )—that these drinks are unsafe. These companies face product seizure unless they remove the caffeine from their products. 


In anticipation of this FDA decision, Phusion Projects announced that it was dropping caffeine and two other stimulants from their product.


Meanwhile, several states have already banned or are considering a ban on these dangerous drinks, which have caused illness among college students.


Why are these drinks such a menace? A can of Four Loko, for example, contains 12% (2.82 oz.) of alcohol, which is the equivalent of 4 beers. Its caffeine content is at least equal to a cup of coffee and some sources say 2-3 cups. The stimulants keep imbibers awake and unaware of how intoxicated they are. They may, therefore, drink more beverages containing alcohol and become very sick and/or indulge in risky behavior such as driving while drunk or becoming belligerent. The nicknames for these drinks are “blackout in a can” and “liquid cocaine.”

In November, 2009, the FDA notified nearly 30 manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks that it intended to look into the safety and legality of their products. At that time, the FDA reported that the use of these products among college students was estimated at about 26%. Under federal law, a substance intentionally added to food (such as caffeine to an alcoholic beverage) is deemed both unsafe and illegal unless its use had received prior approval.  


The Food Safety Modernization Act:


This bill, already passed by the House, has been stalled in the Senate for more than a year. But, finally, on November 17, the lame-duck session of Congress voted to break the filibuster and move ahead with debate. With this 74-25 vote for cloture, debate cannot last for more than 30 hours. Then the Senate must vote on the bill and its amendments.


What would the bill do? Among other things, it would increase agricultural inspections, require better record-keeping by the industry, and allow the FDA to set new quality standards. Some say the its passage would streamline the unwieldy food safety system. Overall, it could transform the FDA from a more passive agency that reacts to food-borne illness outbreaks to one that could do more to prevent them. It would also give the FDA the power to order food recalls; currently, these are initiated by the industry.


Although everyone wants a safe food supply, the bill has been controversial mostly because of the cost to the federal government and to food producers, manufacturers, and distributors of implementing it. 


We urge you to read more about this bill, call your senators, express your opinion, and have your vote be counted. It’s not a waste of your time. What constituents want influences elected officials. Since the massive tainted egg recall last summer, there has been greater interest in seeing that this bill becomes law; those who favor it are hopeful of passage. 


Source(s):  “Four Loko, Joose & Core Told by FDA to Drop the Caffeine”

Chicago Tribune. "FDA warns on alcohol, caffeine mix," p. 29, November 18, 2010

FDA News Release “FDA to Look into Safety of Caffeinated Alcoholic Beverages” “FDA Expected to Take a Stand on Alcoholic Energy Drinks”  “Long-stalled Food Safety Bill Advances in Senate”

Chicago Tribune "Food safety bill gains," Nov. 18, 2010.


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