Panera Bread, a US chain which sells fast food and baked goods, is at the centre of two wrongful death lawsuits after two people who drank its “charged lemonade” died shortly afterwards.
The newer lawsuit was filed by the Florida family of 46-year-old Dennis Brown, who died of cardiac arrest after drinking three of the caffeinated beverages with his dinner on October 9.
Brown was part of the fast food restaurants “sip club”, which allows customers to have unlimited drinks with their meal. He collapsed while walking home and was found unresponsive on the sidewalk. He was pronounced dead on the scene.
According to the lawsuit obtained by ABC News (the US version, not the Australian one), the suit alleges the “unregulated” drink was “offered side-by-side with all of the store’s non-caffeinated and/or less caffeinated drinks; it was not advertised as an ‘energy drink’ nor were there any warnings to consumers.”
WSB, a news TV station associated with ABC, spoke to Brown’s family who told the news station that he had a chromosomal disorder and “did not buy energy drinks or anything like that”. They said he avoided them because of his high blood pressure, and was working hard on his health and managing his condition.
“The last day I saw him, he and I had been in the bathroom. He allowed me to cut his nails, which was unheard of, shave him, groom him. He looked amazing. Really amazing,” Brown’s supportive living coach Deann Burgess said.
Brown was an advocate for people with disabilities in Florida and was well-known by his community for being a cheerful grocery bagger, according to WSB.
After his death, Panera Bread added a warning on its mobile app in the drinks section which read: “Consume in moderation, not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women.”
However, it denied its beverages caused Brown’s death.
“Panera expresses our deep sympathy for Mr. Brown’s family. Based on our investigation we believe his unfortunate passing was not caused by one of the company’s products,” the company said in a statement, per ABC News.
“We view this lawsuit which was filed by the same law firm as a previous claim to be equally without merit. Panera stands firmly by the safety of our products.”
Panera’s lemonade is also accused of causing the death of a 21-year-old university student
The caffeinated beverages which claim to take lemonade to the next level first became the subject of concern after the death of 21-year-old university student Sarah Katz, who died of cardiac arrest after drinking the refreshment in 2022.
Katz was diagnosed with Congenital Long QT Syndrome Type 1 when she was five years old, which results in abnormal heart rhythms that can be life-threatening.
According to the lawsuit, Panera Bread’s Charged Lemonade was not advertised as an “energy” drink at the time Katz ordered it. Katz’ family claimed she didn’t know the drink had such high levels of caffeine because it was inadequately labelled, and alleged her death is a direct result of drinking the beverage.
After Katz’ death, Panera Bread introduced signs which said the lemonade contains “about as much caffeine as our Dark Roast Coffee”.
“She was very aware of her health,” Katz’s roommate and friend Victoria Conway told WSB. “She was very vigilant to avoid caffeine. She never drank coffee.”
At the time of Katz’ death, Panera told ABC News that an investigation was ongoing.
“We were saddened to learn last 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 said in a statement.
What actually is in Panera Bread’s so-called “charged lemonade”?
The Charged Lemonade comes in three flavours: fuji apple cranberry, strawberry lemon mint, and mango yuzu citrus. It is marketed as being a plant-based, “clean caffeine” drink with guarana and green coffee extract.
A regular 20-ounce serving size (which is almost 600mL) of Charged Lemonade contains 260 milligrams of caffeine and the large 30-ounce size (just under 900mL) contains 390 milligrams — which is pretty much the maximum amount of caffeine you should have in a day.
How much caffeine is allowed in energy drinks in Australia?
In Australia, the Food Standards Code restricts how much caffeine companies can put in soft drinks.
In cola-type drinks, the amount of caffeine must not be more than 36mg per 250ml serve. The maximum amount of caffeine energy drinks are allowed to have in Australia is 320mg per litre (or 80mg per 250 ml).
To put that into perspective, 250ml of Panera’s Charged Lemonade has about 110mg of caffeine per 250ml, about 3x that amount of caffeine as is allowed in our soft drinks, and still 20g more than our strongest energy drinks.
How much caffeine can you have in one day?
According to the US Food and Drug administration, the average adult shouldn’t drink more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is the equivalent of about four or five cups of coffee. So if you had three serves of the large lemonade in one day, that would be the equivalent of almost 15 cups of coffee.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) doesn’t suggest a specific guidance value on how much caffeine one person should consume in a day. Instead, it conducted a literature review which found, based on the conclusions of a bunch of studies, that:
- About 37.5mg of caffeine can result in enhanced performance and mood effects
- Caffeine can start affecting people’s sleep at about 100mg
- Increased anxiety levels can occur in adults who have about 210mg of caffeine, for children that’s 95mg
Mind you, these stats are based in averaging the weight of adults at about 70kg over certain periods of time. And you really have to be careful of averages, because chances are this won’t accurately reflect an individual with their own specific weight, caffeine intake, food intake, etc.
It’s more just a guide/warning system, but you have to be aware of your own needs and sensitivities. For example, just one serving of coffee can leave me with anxiety and jitters.
Image: SADS foundation, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images