The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warning letters to four manufacturers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks, directing them to stop adding caffeine to the popular drinks within 15 days or face stop selling them altogether.

FDA warned four companies that the caffeine added to their alcoholic malt beverages is an “unsafe food additive” and said that further action, including seizure of their products, is possible under federal law. Warning letters were issued to the following companies:

Charge Beverages Corp.: Core High Gravity HG Green, Core High Gravity HG Orange, and Lemon Lime Core Spiked
New Century Brewing Co., LLC: Moonshot
Phusion Projects, LLC (doing business as Drink Four Brewing Co.): Four Loko
United Brands Company Inc.: Joose and Max
The FDA Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, asserted that the drinks appeared to pose a serious public health threat because the caffeine masked the effects of the alcohol, leading to “a state of wide-awake drunk.” The drinks at issue are carbonated malt beverages with fruit flavors and very high levels of alcohol; Four Loko is 12 percent alcohol by volume and has up to 156 milligrams of caffeine per can. The effect of consuming alcohol and caffeine is that people get more intoxicated and engage in more dangerous behavior when they drink the combination beverages than when they drink alcohol alone.

The brightly colored cans and flavors like watermelon, blue raspberry and lemon-lime, appear intended to attract under-age drinkers. The popularity of the drinks have come under recent scrutiny because of several incidents around the country where college age consumers have ended up in hospital emergency rooms with alcohol poisoning. Several deaths have also been linked to those who have become intoxicated after drinking the beverages.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also sent warning letters to the four companies, warning that their marketing tactics might violate federal law and directing them to “take swift and appropriate steps to protect consumers.”

Action by the FDA and the FTC is unusual and was intended to send a strong signal to manufacturers that continued distribution of their products would lead to more aggressive action.

Since two federal agencies are warning about how dangerous these beverages are, the liability risk goes up considerably if these companies continue to sell the products. While the crackdown does not apply to caffeinated alcoholic drinks that do not come premixed, like the popular cocktail of Red Bull and vodka, nightclubs and local pubs could face heightened liability as well.

Bar owners and bartenders will have to start thinking about the potential liability associated with serving these “home-made” versions of these beverages. Just because the drink does not come in a can, does not mean that you’re not selling a defective product when you hand a customer a glass of Red Bull and vodka. This author has previously written about other types of defective products.

At Davis Law Group, we help consumers evaluate the liability issues associated with various products that have caused serious injury. If you have a question about a defective product that you feel caused an injury, contact product liability attorney Brian Davis for a free consultation.