Panera Bread plans to pull 'Charged Sips' drinks from Canada amid wrongful death lawsuits

Two families have sued Panera after people allegedly died from the highly caffeinated drinks.

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Cups of caffeinated lemonade are at a Panera Bread Company restaurant in Brighton, New York, on Thursday, December 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Panera Bread's caffeinated drinks will be taken off Canadian menus in the future, according to a spokesperson. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey via The Canadian Press)

Panera Bread is pulling its "Charged Sips" from Canadian restaurants as wrongful death lawsuits remain linked to the drinks. The chain confirmed its plan to Global News, but did not specify a timeline or reason for the removal. As of May 8, the drinks remain available in strawberry and mango lemonade flavours on the company's website, Global reported.

In October 2023, the family of Sarah Katz, a 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania student with a heart condition, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Panera Bread after she died allegedly following consumption of a large cup of the 'Charged Lemonade.' The lawsuit claims that Panera did not adequately warn customers about the high caffeine content in the beverage, which contains more caffeine than a can of Red Bull and Monster Energy combined.

Another lawsuit was filed in December 2023 by the family of David Brown, a 46-year-old Florida man, who died of cardiac arrest after drinking three 'Charged Lemonades' in one day. Brown's family alleges he was unaware of the beverage's high caffeine content because it wasn't marketed as an energy drink.

Amid the lawsuits, Panera Bread has decided to pull its 'Charged Sips' beverages from both the U.S. and Canadian markets. Here's a closer look at how the controversy surrounding 'Charged Sips' unfolded and the diverse perspectives on this issue.

Panera Bread faces a lawsuit filed by the parents of Sarah Katz, who died in September 2022 after allegedly drinking a 'Charged Lemonade' energy drink from the chain. Katz, who was diagnosed with long QT syndrome (LQTS), suffered cardiac arrest at a restaurant after consuming the beverage. Following a second cardiac arrest at Pennsylvania Presbyterian Hospital, she died. Her parents believe that Panera misled customers by failing to label the drink as an energy drink.

A spokesperson from Panera said in a statement, “We were very saddened to learn this morning about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz, and our hearts go out to her family. At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients. We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter.”

The Katz family's lawsuit claims that Panera's 'Charged Lemonade' drink contains guarana, a plant extract with twice the caffeine concentration found in coffee beans. Despite Panera's claims that its "Charged Sips" have as much caffeine as their dark roast coffee, a large cup contains around 390 mg of caffeine.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada states LQTS is a disorder of the heart's electrical system, which controls the rate and rhythm of the heart. Normally, your heart beats a normal rate and regular rhythm. Otherwise, you're considered to have an arrhythmia, like LQTS.

According to the Canadian SADS Foundation, it's an uncommon condition that's typically hereditary and affects roughly 1 in 2,500 people.

LQTS can cause sudden fainting and seizures, and young people with the disorder have an increased risk of sudden death, according to Mayo Clinic. There's also no known cure or prevention for LQTS.

Long QT syndrome, which gets its name from a longer-than-usual time interval between the Q-wave and T-wave on an ECG, is a type of arrhythmia. (Photo via Getty Images)
Long QT syndrome, which gets its name from a longer-than-usual time interval between the Q-wave and T-wave on an ECG, is a type of arrhythmia. (Photo via Getty Images)

According to Katz's roommate and close friend Victoria Rose Conroy, the 21-year-old was careful about navigating her heart condition.

"She was very, very vigilant about what she needed to do to keep herself safe," Conroy told NBC News. "I guarantee if Sarah had known how much caffeine this was, she never would have touched it with a 10-foot pole."

The lawsuit alleges Katz was "reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade and/or electrolyte sports drink containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for her to drink." It also claims Panera misled customers by failing to label its "Charged Lemonade" as an energy drink.

A 30-ounce serving of Panera Breads'
A 30-ounce serving of Panera Breads' "Charged Lemonade" drink contains more caffeine than a can of Red Bull and a can of Monster Energy combined. (REUTERS/Simon Dawson)

Now, in what's changed since the deaths, under the descriptions for each "Charged Lemonade," Panera says they're "naturally flavoured, plant-based. Contains caffeine. Use in moderation. Not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women."

A 20-ounce "Charged Lemonade" has around 260 mg of caffeine, but a 30-ounce serving has roughly 390 mg. That's more caffeine than a can of Red Bull and a can of Monster Energy combined. Health Canada also recommends adults only have a maximum of 400 mg of caffeine per day.

Panera Bread says it's
Panera Bread says it's "very saddened" about Katz's death and will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter." (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Elizabeth Crawford, a Philadelphia-based lawyer involved in the suit, told NBC News while most people believe lemonade is safe, this particular drink "isn't lemonade at all" but an "energy drink that has lemon flavour."

"It's a dangerous energy drink and it's not advertised that way. We want to make sure this does not happen to someone else," Crawford told CNN.

The lawsuit brought on by Katz's parents against Panera suggests there was some deception, saying "these unregulated beverages include no warning of any potentially dangerous effects."

Moreover, the lawsuit says in-store information is "unhelpful," where Panera does "not specify what size of Panera Dark Roast coffee is akin to a Panera Charged Lemonade."

Panera's "Charged Lemonade" is advertised as having "coffee extract" and "guarana extract." However, registered dietitian Lisa DeFazio tells The Guardian that guarana has around double the amount of caffeine seen in coffee beans.

"Guarana caffeine is more powerful because it reacts differently in your stomach," she says. "It is not the same as the energy boost you get from a cup of coffee, because it does not release immediately in your stomach — it releases slowly over a period of time. This has a long-lasting, slow-burning, more intense effect."

Guarana, a stimulant that's from a plant native to the Amazon basin, contains about double the amount of caffeine seen in coffee beans. (Photo via Getty Images)
Guarana, a stimulant that's from a plant native to the Amazon basin, contains about double the amount of caffeine seen in coffee beans. (Photo via Getty Images)

A Panera spokesperson told Global News: "We listened to more than 30,000 guests about what they wanted from Panera, and are focusing next on the broad array of beverages we know our guests desire – ranging from exciting, on-trend flavors, to low-sugar and low-caffeine options."

This past Friday, Canada issued a country-wide recall of various energy drinks, including more than 30 brands like Monster Energy, G Fuel and Prime. The warning indicates the drinks may be unsafe due to their caffeine content and labelling issues.

It's not the first time Canada has issued a national recall for energy drinks. In July, the federal government recalled six brands, including 5-Hour Energy, Sting as well as Logan Paul and KSI's Prime.

That recall came because Canada sets a limit on caffeine in energy drinks of 180 milligrams in a single-serving can, where Prime contains 200 milligrams per 12-ounce can.

Many parents are glad to see Canadian officials cracking down on energy drinks, but some agree more must be done, including tighter rules and a better understanding of influencer marketing.

"That's the huge mountain for us to be climbing," Burnaby, B.C. high school educator Juliet Brown tells CBC News.

While recalls might be a step in the right direction, some Canadian parents worry about how they're marketed towards youth. On one hand, flashy labels and bright fruit flavours are attractive. However, University of Ottawa research indicates posts mentioning Canadian energy drinks reached 351 million people on social media — excluding TikTok — between 2020 and 2021.

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