Federal agencies take steps toward banning caffeinated alcoholic beverages

The FDA issued letters today to several companies that manufacture caffeinated alcoholic drinks, warning that caffeine is an “unsafe food additive” when mixed with alcohol, and that these products may be seized under federal law.

Four Loko maker Phusion Projects, Joose maker United Brands Company, Charge Beverages Corp., and New Century Brewing Co. were among the companies the agency targeted.

“FDA does not find support for the claim that the addition of caffeine to these alcoholic beverages is ‘generally recognized as safe,' which is the legal standard,” FDA principle deputy commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein, MD, said in a press release. “To the contrary, there is evidence that the combination of caffeine and alcohol in these products pose a public health concern.

In conjunction with the FDA's action, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent letters to the same four companies, suggesting that marketing campaigns for alcoholic energy drinks are “unfair” and “deceptive,” and that consumers may think the beverages are safe because due to wide availability.

Last year, health officials expressed concern that caffeine may prevent individuals from perceiving sensory clues that may help determine when to stop drinking. The FDA launched an investigation in November 2009.

Although data from several peer-reviewed studies are inconclusive, evidence exists that mixing caffeine and alcohol could lead to potentially hazardous and life-threatening situations, including drunk driving, physical injury and unwanted sexual behavior. Furthermore, in recent weeks news reports have brought national attention to U.S. students who where hospitalized after consuming caffeinated alcoholic beverages

The four manufacturers have 15 days to provide the FDA and FTC with written documents that specify their plans to remedy the violations and prevent recurrence. If the companies are unresponsive, the FDA can move to suspend sales of the products.

One of the companies, Phusion Projects, has already taken action – announcing plans yesterday to remove caffeine, guarana and taurine from all of their products.

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