Are Cracker Jack's Caffeinated Power Bites Dangerous?

By Jessica Barbanel on November 15, 2012 8:22 PM EST

A vendor with the traditional baseball game snacks of beer, peanuts, sunflower seeds and Cracker Jack waits for customers at Coors Field before the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies met for their Major League Baseball opening day game in Denver
A vendor with the traditional baseball game snacks of beer, peanuts, sunflower seeds and Cracker Jack waits for customers at Coors Field before the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies met for their Major League Baseball opening day game in Denver (Photo: Reuters)

Cracker Jack will have an added kick soon: caffeine. Frito-Lay has announced that later this year it will introduce a new product called Cracker Jack'D Power Bites, which "will contain approximately 70 mg of caffeine in each 2 oz. package."

The energy-producing snack will come in two flavors, vanilla mocha and cocoa java, and will have the equivalent of a 1-ounce serving of espresso or two 12-ounce servings of Coke. A far cry from the molasses-flavored, candy-coated popcorn and peanuts first sold at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, the new varieties are all grown-up. And that's making parents and public advocacy groups very concerned.

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Now the Center for Science in the Public Interest has lodged a complaint with the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) saying that adding caffeine to a snack could have dangerous repercussions. "Caffeine is generally recognized as safe only in cola-type beverages and only at concentrations of 0.02% or less (about 72 mg per 12 oz.)," the group wrote in the letter.

Frito-Lay countered: "It is worth pointing out the regulation referenced in the Center for Science's letter to FDA speaks to caffeine -- not coffee -- and is not an exhaustive list of the safe uses of caffeine in foods and beverages. Rather, it represents one particular recognized safe use."

Nevertheless parents are highly concerned that a caffeinated snack could get into the hands of children 14 and under. It's no secret that Cracker Jack boxes are marketed to children. One of the quaint characteristics is every box has a prize inside. The prizes, which have included everything from temporary tattoos to decoder rings, have never been aimed at adults.

The 1908 song "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" has a famous line "buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!" And in 1918 a character named Sailor Jack, who was a young boy, and his dog Bingo were introduced as marketing tools on the packaging.

Coming on the heels of allegations that 5-Hour Energy and Monster Energy drinks were linked to multiple deaths parents and the F.D.A. may not get in line as quickly as Frito-Lay had hoped.

Cracker Jack was always associated with wholesome images from Middle America. And if the company that bought the brand from Borden in 1997 wants to change that they're going to have to face a lot of angry parents first.

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