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Students given ‘300 coffees’ worth of caffeine in experimental error

By Will Chu , 26-Jan-2017
Last updated on 26-Jan-2017 at 13:45 GMT2017-01-26T13:45:26Z

The average cup of coffee or tea can contain between 40 - 150 mg caffeine. Over-the-counter supplements that are used to combat fatigue typically contain 100–200 mg caffeine per tablet. ©iStock/Tracey Hebden
The average cup of coffee or tea can contain between 40 - 150 mg caffeine. Over-the-counter supplements that are used to combat fatigue typically contain 100–200 mg caffeine per tablet. ©iStock/Tracey Hebden

A British University has been fined after a bungled nutritional experiment led to students consuming caffeine quantities equivalent to '300 cups of coffee.'

Northumbria University were fined £400,000 (€470,700) for breaches in health and safety as the institution told a hearing they were ‘deeply, genuinely sorry.’

Alex Rossetto and Luke Parkin, two sports science students, had volunteered to take part in an experiment that studied the effects of caffeine on exercise.

However, an error in calculation resulted in the students given 100 times the correct amount, resulting in violent ‘life threatening’ side effects, which required dialysis, the BBC reported.

An average cup of coffee typically contains around 0.1 grams (g) of caffeine although specialty coffees may contain much higher doses.

What's considered a safe caffeine kick?

The European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) have stated that up to 400 mg (0.4 g) of caffeine a day and 200 mg (0.2 g) in a single session ﴾two hours﴿ does not pose a health risk for general population adults.

For pregnant women, consumption should not exceed 200 mg a day to ensure there are no risks for the unborn baby.

Experimental errors

Experiments to assess the effects of caffeine on exercise performance have become popular in the sports nutrition arena. ©iStock/auimeesri

In the experiment, conducted in March 2015, the subjects were given 30 g of caffeine when they should have been given 0.3g.

Prosecutor Adam Farrer told Newcastle Crown Court that death had been reported in the past after consumption of just 18 g.

Further details disclosed to the court revealed that the university had switched from using caffeine tablets to powder.

The calculation had been carried out on a mobile phone, with the decimal point incorrectly placed. No risk assessment had been carried out.  

The university admitted the health and safety breach at a hearing last month.

Representing the university, Peter Smith, wished to ‘emphasise that they take the welfare of their students and staff seriously.’

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