The FDA said on Monday it was taking a "fresh look" at the issue in response to the launch of a caffeinated gum, "and if necessary, will take appropriate action."
While the FDA did not name the gum in its statement, Wrigley launched the product this month. One piece of the gum contains 40 milligrams of caffeine, about as much as a half-cup of coffee, according to Wrigley, which is owned by privately held Mars Inc.
The company said it markets the gum as an energy product for adults aged 25 and older, and that it exceeds current regulatory requirements on labeling and disclosure. The gum has a more bitter taste that does not appeal to children, a higher price, and packaging that clearly separates it from other gums, she said.
"As the FDA refines its approach to caffeine, we welcome the opportunity to work with them on this important topic," a Wrigley spokeswoman said in an email.
The FDA seeks to protect consumers from unsafe foods. In addition to research and inspections, the agency has the power to recall and seize unsafe products and stop companies from producing them.
"The only time that FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food was for cola and that was in the 1950s," Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a statement on its website on Monday.
"Today, the environment has changed. Children and adolescents may be exposed to caffeine beyond those foods in which caffeine is naturally found and beyond anything the FDA envisioned when it made the determination regarding caffeine in cola," he said.
Wrigley is not the first to market gum with energizing properties. Mondelez International Inc sells a line of Trident Vitality gums, with ingredients like ginseng, green tea and Vitamin C, and Stride Spark gum in "Kinetic Mint" and "Kinetic Fruit" flavors that have Vitamins B6 and B12 added.
A Mondelez spokesman said none of the company's gums contain caffeine.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago, Toni Clarke in Washington D.C. and Martinne Geller in New York; Editing by John Wallace and Jeffrey Benkoe)