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Panera Bread sued over 'Charged Lemonade' energy drink after 21-year-old woman dies

A University of Pennsylvania student with a heart condition died after allegedly drinking heavily-caffeinated lemonade at Panera Bread.

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Panera Bread is facing a lawsuit, following the death of a 21-year-old woman in the United States after she allegedly drank the fast food chain's
Panera Bread is facing a lawsuit, following the death of a 21-year-old woman in the United States after she allegedly drank the fast food chain's "Charged Lemonade" energy drink. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

What's happening?

Panera Bread is facing a lawsuit filed by the parents of a 21-year-old woman in the United States who died after she allegedly drank a "Charged Lemonade" energy drink — which is also available at Canadian locations — from the fast food chain.

Sarah Katz, who was a junior at the University of Pennsylvania and lived with a heart condition, was at a restaurant on Sept. 10, 2022 with some friends when she experienced a cardiac arrest. After being rushed to Pennsylvania Presbyterian Hospital, she suffered another arrest and died, according to the lawsuit filed Monday morning.

Katz's parents believe her drinking a "Charged Lemonade" led to her death. Seeking compensatory and punitive damages, they allege their daughter bought the drink “reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade and/or electrolyte sports drink containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for her to drink.”

In an autopsy report obtained by CNN, Katz's cause of death was a cardiac arrhythmia due to long QT syndrome (LQTS).

What was the 21-year-old's heart condition?

An obituary posted by the SADS Foundation shared that after experiencing a seizure in the middle of a swimming lesson at age 5, Katz was diagnosed with LQTS.

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)

Did she not know she was consuming caffeine?

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)

Is the 'Charged Lemonade' drink dangerous?

On Panera's website, three "Charged Lemonade" drinks are currently offered and are listed alongside other beverages including pop, bottled water, coffee and tea. Under the descriptions for each "Charged Lemonade," Panera says they're "naturally flavoured and plant-based with about as much caffeine as our dark roast coffee."

Panera's 20-ounce dark roast coffee has around 268 mg of caffeine. 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.

While energy drinks have long been scrutinized by health experts, their popularity remains strong — and it's easy to think they might be fine for your health. But a 2017 study says there must be more caffeine limits, restricted sales and regulations on marketing strategies imposed on the industry.

Perspectives

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)

False advertising

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.

Deceptive marketing

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."

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)

More powerful caffeine

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."

Ingredient transparency

Upon learning of the lawsuit, Panera Bread wrote it's "very saddened to learn this morning about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz, and our hearts go out to her family," adding the company "strongly" believes in "transparency around our ingredients."

The influencer-backed Prime energy drink contains too much caffeine to comply with Health Canada's rules. (Photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
The influencer-backed Prime energy drink contains too much caffeine to comply with Health Canada's rules. (Photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Recalls

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.

More must be done

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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