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Food Safety Focus (78th Issue, January 2013) – Food Incident Highlight

Regulation of Energy Drinks and Adverse Health Effects

The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) is investigating reports of adverse health events possibly linked to the consumption of energy drinks. Eighteen deaths and over 100 injuries or hospitalisation, allegedly related to energy drinks under the labels 5-Hour Energy, Monster, Rockstar and Red Bull, have been reported to the US FDA over the past four years. However, it is important to note that all adverse event reports which the US FDA has received in connection with the products of concern are voluntary and that the US FDA considers the existence of such reports does not necessarily mean that the drinks have actually caused the adverse events.

Energy drinks available on the market
Energy drinks available on the market

Energy drinks are generally non-alcoholic beverages that may contain ingredients such as caffeine, taurine, glucuronolactone and B vitamins, etc. Except for caffeine which may cause adverse effects such as nervousness and anxiety in children and people who are sensitive to caffeine, no evidence shows that any other ingredients in energy drinks can cause serious health effects.

Consumers, particularly pregnant and lactating women, children and individuals sensitive to caffeine, are advised to refrain from drinking excessive amounts of caffeinated drinks, including energy drinks. When consuming energy drinks, one should note the manufacturer's suggestion on intake level on the label and avoid over-consumption. In addition, energy drinks should not be consumed along with other substances (e.g. alcohol or drugs) that affect the functioning of the central nervous system.

There are currently no standards set by the Codex Alimentarius Commission for energy drinks. In Hong Kong, all energy drinks for sale must be fit for human consumption and properly labelled with a list of ingredients. Consumers can find out the composition of energy drinks from the list of ingredients on the food label to make an informed choice. The Centre for Food Safety will closely monitor the international development on the regulation of energy drinks and take appropriate action when necessary.