The 98-page draft assessment, published today, said the same for single doses of up to 200mg for adults (18-65 years). This level stood even when consumed less than two hours before intense exercise – a condition of use EFSA was asked specifically to look at given concerns raised by national and international bodies and cases of fatalities allegedly linked to energy drink consumption.
Within the literature review of caffeine and performance, EFSA acknowledged that: “The majority of experimental studies have investigated the effect of a single dose of caffeine taken prior to exercise, following a period where the subject refrained from caffeine consumption for up to seven days.”
The caffeine content of a single can of Red Bull is 80 mg/250 ml, while an average cup of coffee contains around 95mg. The safety authority concluded it was unlikely that caffeine interacted adversely with other energy drink ingredients like taurine and D-glucurono-γ-lactone, or with alcohol.
For pregnant women, caffeine intakes of up to 200mg a day did not raise safety concerns for the foetus. While for children aged 3-10 years and adolescents aged 10-18 years, a daily intake of 3mg per kg of body weight was considered safe.
EFSA did warn that single doses of 100mg may increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and shorten sleeping time in some adults, as part of its evaluation of acute and long-term effects of caffeine consumption on the central nervous system.
Caffeine has been a contentious issue in recent years - with several EFSA-approved health claims put on hold due to member state concerns about what this would communicate to consumers. In other news, Lithuania banned the sale of energy drinks to under 18s at the end of last year. A new EU labelling law, Food Information for Consumers (FIC), which came into play in December last year meant that added-caffeine drinks containing over over 150mg/l of caffeine were required to clearly carry the warning: "High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women."
This latest assessment is likely to raise questions among industry members and regulators alike about the scientific grounding of such public health fears.
Commenting on the opinion, a spokesperson for the Union of European Soft Drinks Associations said EFSA's opinions were crucial to the soft drinks industry as they provided "clarity based on sound science", with this particular report confirming that coffee and tea were the primary source of caffeine for most Europeans.
"I can't comment on national government initiatives like Lithuania, but obviously EFSA is the leading European food safety authority and provides scientific evidence which is at the disposal of governments to draw on as they see fit when formulating policy."
Asked at the time of the ban if the awaited EFSA assessment would impact its decision, the Lithuanian State Food and Veterinary Service (SFVS) told us: "If there will be new announcements the ministry of health together with SFVS will look into that matter."
Meanwhile, the European Coffee Federation (ECF) said it welcomed the draft opinion. "ECF believes that the opinion considers the wealth of scientific research which suggests that moderate coffee consumption can be part of a healthy balanced diet and may even confer health benefits for the general adult population.
"Taken overall, the research indicates that moderate coffee consumption can increase alertness, contribute to hydration and may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and degenerative brain diseases."
Interested parties are now invited to submit feedback, the deadline for which is 15 March. A stakeholders meeting – the full details of which will be announced on EFSA’s website – will be held in the first week of March.