The agency is already investigating the safety of energy drinks and energy shots, fueled by consumer reports of illness and death.
Taylor said the only time FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food or drink was in the 1950s for colas. Today's proliferation of caffeine added to foods is "beyond anything FDA envisioned," Taylor said. "We're concerned about whether they have been adequately evaluated."
Caffeine has the regulatory classification of "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, which means manufacturers can add it to products and then determine on their own whether the product is safe.
"This raises questions about how the GRAS concept is working and is it working adequately," Taylor said of the gum and other caffeine-added products.
As food companies have created more ingredients to add health benefits, improve taste or help food stay fresh, there are at least 4,650 of these "generally recognized as safe" ingredients, according to the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts. The bulk of them, at least 3,000, were determined GRAS by companies and trade associations.
Caffeine is not a new ingredient, but Taylor says the FDA is concerned about all of the new ways it is being delivered to consumers. He said the agency will look at the potential impact these "new and easy sources" of caffeine will have on children's health and will take action if necessary. He said that he and other FDA officials have held meetings with some of the large food companies that have ventured into caffeinated products, including Mars Inc., of which Wrigley is a subsidiary.
Wrigley and other companies adding caffeine to their products have labeled them as for adult use only. A spokeswoman for Wrigley, Denise M. Young, said the gum is for "adults who are looking for foods with caffeine for energy" and each piece contains about 40 milligrams, or the equivalent amount found in half a cup of coffee. She said the company will work with FDA.
"Millions of Americans consume caffeine responsibly and in moderation as part of their daily routines," Young said.
Food manufacturers have added caffeine to candy, nuts and other snack foods in recent years. Jelly Belly "Extreme Sport Beans," for example, have 50 mg of caffeine in each 100-calorie pack, while Arma Energy Snx markets trail mix, chips and other products that have caffeine.
Critics say it's not enough for the companies to say they are marketing the products to adults when the caffeine is added to items such as candy that are attractive to children. Many of the energy foods are promoted with social media campaigns, another way they could be targeted to young people.
Major medical associations have warned that too much caffeine can be dangerous for children, who have less ability to process the stimulant than adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics says it has been linked to harmful effects on young people's developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.
"Could caffeinated macaroni and cheese or breakfast cereal be next?" said Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which asked the FDA to look into the number of foods with added caffeine last year.
Taylor said the agency would look at the added caffeine in its totality while one product might not cause adverse effects, the increasing number of caffeinated products on the market, including drinks, could mean more adverse health effects for children.
Foods with added caffeine might surprise
Wrigley Alert Energy Gum contains about 40 milligrams a piece, or the equivalent amount found in half a cup of coffee.
Jelly Belly Extreme Sport Beans have 50 mg of caffeine in a 100-calorie pack.
Arma Energy Snx markets chips, trail mix and "chocolate caramel cookie caffeine mix."
Wired Waffles sells caffeinated maple syrup and "energy waffles."
Some varieties of Frito-Lay's Cracker Jack'd Power Bites include two tablespoons of ground coffee.
Kraft's Mio Energy "water enhancer" squirts caffeine and flavoring into water.