Amid two wrongful death lawsuits, Panera to pull the plug on “charged” drinks

Dispensers for Charged Lemondade, a caffeinated lemonade drink, at Panera Bread, Walnut Creek, California, March 27, 2023.
Enlarge / Dispensers for Charged Lemondade, a caffeinated lemonade drink, at Panera Bread, Walnut Creek, California, March 27, 2023.

Panera Bread will stop selling its highly caffeinated “Charged” drinks, which have been the subject of at least three lawsuits and linked to at least two deaths.

It is unclear when exactly the company will pull the plug on the potent potables, but in a statement to Ars Tuesday, Panera said it was undergoing a “menu transformation” that includes an “enhanced beverage portfolio.” The company plans to roll out various new drinks, including a lemonade and tea, but a spokesperson confirmed that the new flavors would not contain added caffeine as the “charged” drinks did.

The fast-casual cafe-style chain drew national attention in 2022 for the unexpectedly high caffeine levels in the drinks, which were initially offered as self-serve with free refills.

The versions of the drinks at the time were labeled as containing 389 mg to 390 mg of caffeine in a large, 30-ounce drink, while the other option, a 20-ounce regular, contained 260 mg. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a limit of 400 mg of caffeine per day is generally considered safe for healthy adults, but a smaller amount is advised for adults with certain medical conditions or who are pregnant or breastfeeding. A standard 8-ounce cup of coffee generally contains between 80 to 100 mg of caffeine, while a Red Bull energy drink also contains 80 mg.

In September 2022, Sarah Katz, a 21-year-old with a heart condition, died after allegedly drinking one of the highly caffeinated lemonades from a restaurant in Philadelphia. In a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Panera in October 2023, Katz’s parents alleged that she didn’t know the drink contained potentially dangerous amounts of caffeine.  Rather, she was “reasonably confident it was a traditional lemonade and/or electrolyte sports drink containing a reasonable amount of caffeine safe for her to drink,” the lawsuit stated.

Also in October, Dennis Brown, a 46-year-old man in Florida, went into cardiac arrest while walking home from a Panera, where he allegedly drank a charged lemonade and then had two refills. His family filed a lawsuit against Panera in December.

According to CNN, a third lawsuit was filed in January by a woman who claims she developed an irregularly fast heartbeat and palpitations after drinking the two-and-a-half caffeinated lemonades in April 2023. “The primary reason she ordered this drink was because it was advertised as ‘plant-based’ and ‘clean,’” the complaint states.

In a statement to Ars in December, Panera said it “stands firmly by the safety of our products.” However, the company increased warnings on the drinks last year and moved containers behind the counter in some stores. Most notably, it also reduced the labeled amount of caffeine in the drinks. The current menu lists the “Charged Sips” drinks as having between 155 mg to 302 mg, depending on the flavor and size.

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