Customer’s death prompts Panera to display warning about its ‘Charged Lemonade’ drink

Anyone who purchases Panera Bread’s Charged Lemonade drink will now first receive a stark warning about the risks it poses.

The reason why is because of Sarah Katz, an Ivy League student with a heart condition who died last year after she drank this very drink.

Fast-forward to last week, when Katz’ family filed suit against Panera Bread, arguing that the Charged Lemonade drink is a “dangerous energy drink” and that the restaurant had failed to inform her about its ingredients.

“Katz had a heart condition called long QT syndrome type 1 and avoided energy drinks at the recommendation of her doctors,” according to NBC News.

Yet when Katz stepped into a Panera Bread on Sept. 10th, 2022 and purchased a Charged Lemonade drink, she had no idea that it contained 390 milligrams of caffeine, which is just short of the 400-milligram daily maximum that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says regular, healthy adult Americans may safely consume.

It’s also nearly 3x the amount of caffeine in a Red Bull energy drink, 4x the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee, and 11x the amount of caffeine in a can of Coke.

“She was very, very vigilant about what she needed to do to keep herself safe. I guarantee if Sarah had known how much caffeine this was, she never would have touched it with a 10-foot pole,” Katz’ close friend and roommate, Victoria Rose Conroy, told NBC News.

According to Conroy, her friend went into cardiac arrest just a few short hours after drinking the Charged Lemonade drink.

The lawsuit against Panera Bread reportedly says the Charged Lemonade drink was “offered side-by-side with all of Panera’s non-caffeinated and/or less caffeinated drinks” and was advertised as a “plant-based and clean” drink equivalent caffeine-wise to the restaurant’s dark roast coffee.

“But at 390 milligrams, the large Charged Lemonade has more caffeine than any size of Panera’s dark roast coffee, the complaint says — numbers that the nutrition facts on Panera’s website confirm,” NBC News notes.

“It also has guarana extract, another stimulant, as well as the equivalent of nearly 30 teaspoons of sugar, the complaint continues, adding that 390 milligrams of caffeine is higher than the caffeine content of standard cans of Red Bull and Monster energy drinks combined. Katz had gotten the large cup, which is 30 fluid ounces.”

“I think everyone thinks lemonade is safe,” the Katz’ family’s attorney, Elizabeth Crawford, said to NBC News. “And really, this isn’t lemonade at all. It’s an energy drink that has lemon flavor. It should have an adequate warning. It’s misleading in the sense that it’s not indicating that it is an energy drink.”

The lawsuit specifically alleges that the drink is “defective in design because it is a dangerous energy drink.”

“These unregulated beverages include no warning of any potentially dangerous effects, even the life-threatening effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and/or brain function,” the suit reads.

Panera Bread, to its credit, has responded to the lawsuit by adding additional “disclosures” to ensure customers are aware of all the caffeine in the Charged Lemonade drink.

“We were saddened to learn this week about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz. While our investigation is ongoing, out of an abundance of caution, we have enhanced our existing caffeine disclosure for these beverages at our bakery-cafes, on our website and on the Panera app,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

The FDA has meanwhile launched its own investigation and is currently “gathering information.”

As for Katz’  heart condition, it’s “a disorder of the heart’s electrical system that can cause abnormal heart rhythms as a result of exercise or stress,” according to NBC News. The good news is “it can be well-managed with medication” and wise decision-making.

“About 1 in 2,000 people have congenital long QT syndrome, with some showing no symptoms and others fainting or experiencing heart palpitations in response to triggers such as exercise or being startled, said Dr. Charles Berul, an electrophysiologist at Children’s National Hospital in Washington,” NBC News notes.

According to Berul, even folks with congenital long QT syndrome may consume caffeine — just in very moderated doses.

“We tell people not to worry, it’s fine to have a Coke or a small coffee each day,” he said.

Vivek Saxena

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