Panera says it is phasing out its controversial Charged Lemonade nationwide

Panera says it is phasing out its controversial Charged Lemonade nationwide

A spokesperson for Panera Bread says the restaurant chain is phasing out its Charged Lemonade, a highly caffeinated drink blamed in lawsuits for at least two deaths.

The drinks sparked controversy in October following a lawsuit filed by the family of 21-year-old Sarah Katz, a University of Pennsylvania student with a heart condition who died after consuming Charged Lemonade. A second lawsuit was filed in December by the family of Dennis Brown, a Florida man with a chromosomal deficiency disorder and developmental delay who also died after drinking a Charged Lemonade.

A third lawsuit was filed in January by Lauren Skerritt, a 28-year-old Rhode Island woman, who claimed the drink left her with “permanent heart damage.”

A Panera spokesperson said Tuesday that the nationwide discontinuation of the Charged Lemonade comes after a “recent menu transformation.”

“We listened to more than 30,000 guests about what they wanted from Panera, and are now focusing on the wide range of beverages we know our guests crave – ranging from exciting, trendy flavors to low sugar and caffeine options ,” the spokesperson said.

Panera previously advertised its Charged Lemonade as “Plant-based and clean with as much caffeine as our Dark Roast coffee.” But the lawsuits said a large 30-ounce Charged Lemonade contains more total caffeine at 390 milligrams than any size of Panera’s dark roast coffee, referring to the amount of caffeine in the drink without ice. Panera has since updated its nutritional information to reflect how much caffeine is in the Charged Lemonade on ice, for example noting the large size of the blood orange Charged Lemonade, which is 302 milligrams.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, healthy adults can generally safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine per day.

After NBC News broke news of the initial lawsuit, which called Charged Lemonade “a dangerous energy drink,” Panera posted more detailed disclosures at all of its restaurants and on its website warning customers to consume Charged Lemonade in moderation, stating that it is not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine or pregnant or lactating women.

Three Panera Charged Lemonade Dispensers (Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images file)Three Panera Charged Lemonade Dispensers (Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images file)

Three Panera Charged Lemonade Dispensers (Smith Collection/Gado via Getty Images file)

A friend said Katz probably had no idea the drink contained caffeine when she bought it before her death.

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

Panera has previously expressed its condolences to the Katz and Brown families. After the second lawsuit, the company said in a statement that it believes the customer’s “unfortunate death was not caused by any of the company’s products” and that it stands behind the safety of the items on the menu. The restaurant chain did not comment on the third lawsuit.

On Monday evening, two Panera employees who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity because they feared they could lose their jobs confirmed that they had received memos earlier in the day from staff above them stating that their restaurants would no longer order ingredients to to make Charged Lemonade.

The memos, which were shared with NBC News, came from a manager in one case and from a regional manager in the other, the employees said. One memo stated that the Charged Lemonade would be replaced within two weeks.

The first employee identified herself as an employee at a Panera restaurant in Missouri, while the other said she was a manager at a Panera in Pennsylvania.

But not all Panera employees were immediately aware of the change. At a Panera restaurant in New York City’s Queens neighborhood Tuesday morning, three employees said they had not heard that the Charged Lemonade would be discontinued.

Elizabeth Crawford, a partner at the Philadelphia-based law firm Kline & Specter, PC, which represents the plaintiffs in the three lawsuits, said Tuesday that Panera had taken a “good step.”

“This is exactly what we wanted to do to some extent: make sure this poison is taken off the shelves,” she said in an exclusive interview. “Obviously it’s not going to bring Sarah back, and it’s not going to bring back Dennis and the life Lauren used to have.”

“But at least what it will do is prevent this from happening to anyone else,” she said.

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