Bad Idea of the Week: Caffeinated Cracker Jacks

In Cracker Jacks' latest line of snack foods, who knew the surprise inside would be 'a mildly addictive stimulant drug'?

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Frito Lay

In light of new reports linking 5-Hour Energy drinks to several recent deaths, sleep-deprived consumers may need to find another source of packaged vigor. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay has an unlikely alternative: Cracker Jacks. The company is launching a new line of the sugary treats — aptly named “Cracker Jack’d” — that will contain caffeine, Advertising Age reports.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which has previously battled such consumer products companies as MillerCoors Brewing Company and Airborne, claims the caffeinated Cracker Jacks violate federal food laws.

“Boxes of Cracker Jack are famous for having a toy surprise inside,” CSPI said in a Wednesday statement. “But what parent suspects that Cracker Jack might come with a surprising dose of a mildly addictive stimulant drug?”

CSPI warned that if the government doesn’t crack down on the upcoming Frito-Lay product, it could “set off a new craze in which manufacturers add caffeine to more and more varieties of foods and beverages.”

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CSPI wrote a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in which it argues that each package of “Cracker Jack’d” could contain the same amount of caffeine as a six-ounce cup of coffee—thus breaching an FDA rule stating that caffeine is “generally recognized as safe only in cola-type beverages and only at concentrations of 0.02 percent or less (about 72 mg per 12 oz.).”

In its letter, CSPI also criticizes Kraft’s MiO Energy drinks and Jelly Belly’s Extreme Sports Beans, as both products are caffeinated.

Two of the new Cracker Jack’d flavors, dubbed Power Bites, are made with coffee — “a natural source of caffeine,” a Frito-Lay spokesman told Ad Age — which will add up to an estimated 70 mg of caffeine in each 2 oz. pack.

“We stand by the safety of all products in the Cracker Jack’d line, including those that contain coffee,” the spokesman said. “It is worth pointing out the regulation referenced in CSPI’s letter to FDA speaks to caffeine—not coffee—and is not an exhaustive list of safe uses of caffeine in foods and beverages. Rather it represents one particular recognized safe use.”

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According to Ad Age, PepsiCo also received a letter from CSPI blasting its inclusion of the substance, which could cause “anxiety, restlessness, irritability, excitability and insomnia.” CSPI said caffeine is “totally inappropriate to be included in foods consumed by children.”

The Frito-Lay spokesman, however, told Ad Age that the Cracker Jack’d line was developed exclusively for adults and is not marketed to children. He added that the presence of coffee is marked clearly on the packaging.

Before calling out PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay, CSPI—which is often referred to as the “food police”—spearheaded controversial campaigns to impose soda taxes, ban trans fat and introduce menu labels that provide more nutritional information, the Hill notes.

The extension of the Cracker Jack’d line comes as part of Frito-Lay’s efforts to expand its “value brands,” according to Ad Age.
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