Energy drinks have proliferated in recent years and continue to increase in popularity, especially among younger consumers. Laden with stimulants, usually caffeine, they have been linked to health issues in more than one country. As a result, they are coming under increasing scrutiny from regulatory bodies and consumer groups.

In late 2013, a supermarket in the UK decided to restrict the sale of high caffeine energy drinks in 2014 to customers who can prove that they are 16 years or older.[1] This is in accordance with the code of practice from the British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA)[2] and guidance from the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that children should consume caffeine in moderation. Additionally, the BSDA code specifies that soft drinks containing more than 150 milligrams per litre (mg/l) of caffeine are required to be labelled “high caffeine content” with the quantity of caffeine expressed as mg/100ml as well as the recommended statement of “not suitable for children, pregnant women and persons sensitive to caffeine”. The BSDA code of practice also states that these drinks may not be promoted or marketed to persons who are less than 16 years of age.

New EU Regulation

On 13 December 2014, Food Information Regulation (EU) 1169/2011 becomes applicable across the European Union (EU). This states that for beverages that caffeine is added to for a physiological effect, in excess of 150 mg/l, must be labelled, “High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women.” within view of the caffeine content listed in mg/100ml. This does not affect tea or coffee, which remain exempt from the effect of the regulation.

The EU Scientific Committee on Food reviewed the effects of caffeine intake in 1999 and 2003 and concluded that 300mg of caffeine for a 60kg person could result in temporary behavioural changes in some people, causing irritability, nervousness or anxiety. The UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment research review showed that consumption of too much caffeine might result in babies having low birth weight. The FSA advises pregnant women to limit their caffeine intake to 200mg per day.

Categorisation in the US

In the United States (US) caffeine is permitted in cola-type soft drinks at a maximum of 0.02% caffeine or 20 mg/100ml. Because of the caffeine level in energy drinks as well as additional additives such as taurine and glucuronolactone, which are not permitted in beverages in the US, energy drinks in the US are usually marketed as Dietary Supplements. The US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) recently published their final guidance as to when a liquid product is a dietary supplement or a beverage (food). Currently no warnings are required on these products in the US. The US FDA does have some inconsistency for stimulant drug products in the US, with caffeine levels of 100mg per tablet requiring specific warnings, such as “Do not give to children under 12 years age” and “The recommended dose of this product contains about much caffeine as a cup of coffee. Limit the use of caffeine-containing medication, foods, or beverages while taking this product because too much caffeine may cause nervousness, irritability, sleeplessness, and occasionally rapid heart beat”.[3]

Additional labelling required

In Australia, caffeine is a food additive and standard 2.6.4 of the Australia New Zealand Food Code Standard limits the maximum amount of caffeine to 320mg/l. Additional labelling is required to indicate that these products are not suitable for young children, pregnant or lactating women and individuals sensitive to caffeine. An advisory statement is to be included to limit consumption to 500 ml (2 cans) per day.[4]

In a recent study, the University of Bonn in Germany imaged the hearts of 17 people, one hour after they had an energy drink and found that contractions of the heart were more forceful.[5] 

There are positives for some of the ingredients in energy drinks. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), published an opinion on the safety of taurine and glucuronolactone in energy drinks and concluded that these two ingredients did not pose a safety concern to adults and children, at the levels being used currently in energy drinks. In a study published by John Hopkins University on 12 January 2014, in the journal of Nature Neuroscience, it was noted that caffeine enhances certain memories at least up to 24 hours after it is consumed.[6] The conclusion drawn was that caffeine is useful for keeping a person awake and can also enhance short-term memory.               

For more information visit SGS Food Safety or contact

Jim Cook
Consumer Testing Services
Food Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager
SGS – North America, Inc.
291 Fairfield Avenue
Fairfield, NJ 07004
t: +1 (973) 461-1493
[1] http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/22/morrisons-bans-high-energy-drinks-children

[2] http://www.britishsoftdrinks.com/PDF/BSDA%20high%20caffeine%20content%20code

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2735818

[4] http://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/2013/01/17/reports-on-%e2%80%9cdanger-of-energy-drinks%e2%80%9d-stimulate-australian-concerns.html

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-25156509

[6] http://www.ausfoodnews.com.au/2014/01/15/caffeine-has-positive-effect-on-memory-researchers-say.html