EIGHINGER: A little buzz is the prize inside every box

Posted: Nov. 24, 2012 10:52 pm Updated: Dec. 22, 2012 11:26 pm

My world has been turned upside down the past two weeks. It's been difficult to sleep at night, I've noticed problems with social interaction and I have been caught numerous times staring blankly at my computer screen.

First it was the shutdown of Hostess and the reality of a barren world without Twinkies, Ho-Hos and those wonderful little apple pies with the glazed covering. Have you ever seen "Mad Max," the Mel Gibson film with the post-apocalyptic theme? If so, you know there were no Twinkies -- or any other Hostess products -- in what was left of the world after some sort of nuclear holocaust. If you haven't seen the movie, take my word -- the lack of a Hostess brand was not a pretty sight.

And then, while dealing with the no-Twinkie apocalypse, there comes word of another great snack brand about to drop another bomb on my/your culinary world.

Cracker Jacks, the popular caramel-coated popcorn treat, is adding a second product to that particular snack family. The idea of an offshoot is not necessarily bad, but it's a new ingredient in that product that is raising some red flags. And to suggest that new ingredient is rather shocking is kind of like saying it was kind of surprising when Cat Stevens suddenly retired from pop music in 1977.

Cracker Jacks, which is manufactured by Frito-Lay, will soon be introducing a new version of its snack called -- are you ready for this? -- "Cracker Jack'd."

Cracker Jack'd will be spiked with some caffeine, which according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, violates Food and Drug Administration regulations.

Safety issues aside, why mess with what seems to be a perfect product? Would the Cardinals take those redbirds off the bats on their uniforms? Would "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart sound as good if it had been sung in a soprano's voice? Would it make sense for the world's No. 1 soft drink, Coca-Cola Classic, to be discontinued? (Wait, scratch that last thought. Those who were alive in the 1980s will remember that bone-headed marketing move by Coke, hoping to broaden the drink's appeal even more by changing its formula. A few months later, Coke admitted the error of its ways and gave us back the real Coke, rebranded as "Classic.")

Apparently, a lack of governmental regulations for many food and beverages makes it possible to lace them with doses of caffeine.

The idea behind added caffeine in products is normally to produce extended alertness or some definitive taste, but too much caffeine can produce nasty side effects that include insomnia, jitteriness, irritability, accelerated heartbeat and even muscle tremors.

"How long before we have caffeinated burgers, burritos or breakfast cereals," asked Michael F. Jacobson, the executive director of CSPI.

Up to 0.02 percent of caffeine in cola beverages is considered safe by the FDA. The CSPI maintained a lack of regulations for other products makes the use of caffeine in them illegal.

"Unless the FDA begins enforcing its regulations, I fear that we'll see caffeine being added to ever-more improbable drinks and snacks, putting children, unsuspecting pregnant women, and others at risk," Jacobson said.

Frito-Lay has gone on record saying the new Cracker Jack'd Power Bites will have "two flavors that will contain coffee, a natural source of caffeine." According to the company, one 2-ounce serving of Cracker Jack'd will contain around 70 milligrams of caffeine, which is the FDA limit for every 12 ounces -- or one can -- of soda.

The question here is who will stop at 2 ounces? Personally, I'm just getting warmed up at about 10 ounces of any snack.

Frito-Lay says Cracker Jack'd will not be marketed toward children. Yeah, like that will help. Obviously, the Frito-Lay hierarchy has never met my grandsons.

The world, as we know, it is close to coming to an end. In a matter of months our planet could be inhabited only by empty-eyed adults stumbling across the horizon in search of Twinkies, followed by caffeine-buzzed kids looking for another bag of Cracker Jack'd.

May the force be with us.




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