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Caffeine

(September 2019)

Caffeine occurs naturally in foods, such as coffee, tea and cocoa and has a long history of safe use as a mild stimulant. Products are also available with added caffeine, including cola-type soft drinks, formulated caffeinated beverages (energy drinks) and energy shots.

Caffeine content of some food and drinks:

Caffeine infographic

Is there a safe limit for caffeine?

There is no recognised health-based guidance value, such as an Acceptable Daily Intake, for caffeine. However, a FSANZ Expert Working Group analysed the available literature in 2000 and concluded that there was evidence of increased anxiety levels in children at doses of about 3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight per day. The anxiety level for children aged 5-12 equates to a caffeine dose of 95 mg per day (approximately two cans of cola) and about 210 mg per day (approximately three cups of instant coffee) for adults.

 

Read the Working Group report.

 

How is caffeine regulated?

The Food Standards Code restricts how much caffeine can be added to cola-type soft drinks and energy drinks. Foods containing added caffeine must also have a statement on the label that the product contains caffeine. Foods containing guarana (a South American plant with high levels of natural caffeine) must also be labelled as containing caffeine. This is to help people avoid caffeine either for themselves or their children.

In cola-type drinks, the total caffeine content must not exceed 145 mg/kg in the drink as consumed. Energy drinks are regulated under Standard 2.6.4 of the Code. It sets maximum permitted levels of caffeine and other substances in these products (the maximum amount of caffeine they can contain is 320 mg per litre). This Standard includes additional labelling requirements advising the products are not suitable for young children, pregnant or lactating women and individuals sensitive to caffeine.

‘Energy shots’ marketed as dietary supplements or supplemented foods have been found to contain caffeine and other substances in small volumes at concentrations above the limits prescribed in the Code and therefore do not meet the requirements of Standard 2.6.4.

​What is the Government doing about caffeine powders and high caffeine content products?
 

In July 2019, Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Minister for Youth and Sport Richard Colbeck and Minister for Health Greg Hunt asked FSANZ to provide advice about current caffeine permissions in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, and to consider preliminary recommendations for strengthening regulations and consumer warnings in relation to caffeine powder and high caffeine content food.

In September 2019 Minister Colbeck released the report and agreed to all recommendations made by FSANZ to enhance consumer safety with regards to caffeine powder and high caffeine content food.

The five recommendations approved by Minister Colbeck include:

1. That FSANZ develop and declare as urgent a proposal to amend the Code to prohibit the retail sale of pure and highly concentrated caffeine food products.

2. That FSANZ consider developing a maximum limit of caffeine in food, based on the outcome of the current review of Standard 2.9.4 – Formulated Supplementary Sports Foods.

3. That a coordinated inter-agency consumer information campaign on safe caffeine consumption be developed and implemented in conjunction with the implementation of recommendation one, if adopted.

4. That, prior to or in parallel with the consumer information campaign, guidance on the regulation of products containing pure or high concentrations of caffeine, and high caffeine content products, be developed by Implementation Subcommittee for Food Regulation (ISFR) for, and agreed by, enforcement agencies to inform compliance action.

5. That targeted research on caffeine consumption across the Australian and New Zealand population, including consumption by specific vulnerable population groups, continue to be undertaken as part of the upcoming Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study.

Read the report

Pure and Concentrated Caffeine Products – FSANZ review August 2019 Caffeine report(pdf 1,346 kb)  | (word 534 kb)​​​ 

Update: The Department of Agriculture has provided the following details around inspections processes for imported food:

  • Food arriving via the mail pathway is out of scope of the Imported Food Inspection Scheme and not referred for assessment and inspection under that scheme.
  • A change to imported food regulations has reduced the quantity of a food consignment considered to be for private consumption from 10 kilograms/litres to 1 kilogram/litre. This change took effect from 1 October 2019.

  

Is caffeine safe?

Caffeine is used in safe quantities in the manufacture of coffee, cola drinks, sports supplements and energy drinks. It is also present in foods such as chocolate, baked goods, lollies and even tea leaves.

Why is pure caffeine powder going to be banned?

Caffeine powder is to be banned from sale in Australia and New Zealand because in its pure form it can be lethal in quantities as small as one teaspoonful.

Products containing pure or highly concentrated caffeine powder are often sold in bulk online or in health food shops.

A single package may contain thousands of servings, requiring the consumer to accurately measure out a safe serving (pure caffeine products can have the maximum recommended 200mg dose in 1/16 of a teaspoon or less).

Accurate measurement of safe doses can be extremely difficult even using kitchen scales, which generally measure in grams, not milligrams.

How much pure caffeine can be dangerous?

In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that for healthy adults and the elderly, single doses of caffeine of up to 200mg (approximately 2 ½ espressos or 4 cups of filter coffee) do not raise any safety concerns.

For regular consumption, EFSA concluded that caffeine consumption up to 400mg over 24 hours is not likely to cause any harm to the adult consumer.

For pregnant and breastfeeding women, daily caffeine consumption of up to 200mg is safe for the unborn child or breastfed infant.

Pure caffeine products such as caffeine powder can have the maximum 200mg dose in just 1/16th of a teaspoon, with a potentially fatal dose – the equivalent of 25-50 cups of coffee – in  one teaspoon.

 

Does this mean food products containing caffeine, such as sports drinks and cola drinks, could also be dangerous?

Caffeine as an ingredient in cola drinks and formulated caffeinated beverages such as energy drinks does not present a high risk given the maximum concentration of caffeine in these foods is already prescribed and regulated in the Food Standards Code.

The declared levels of caffeine in these products are much lower than in the same amount of a highly purified form, and are therefore likely to have less severe health effects.

Related documents:

Read the full report FSANZ provided to Minister Colbeck here

More information

Application A394 - Formulated Caffeinated Beverages (Energy Drinks)

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