I don’t really know a whole lot about sports.
One thing I do know, however, is the story of Len Bias — the 22-year-old college basketball superstar who was drafted to the Celtics, did some cocaine to celebrate, supposedly for the first time ever (but not really), and then dropped dead from heart failure. It was brought up a lot at one point, in D.A.R.E. seminars and in the other drug episode of Saved By The Bell, the one where big time movie star Johnny Dakota comes to Bayside to film an anti-drug PSA, but then tries to get Kelly Kapowski to smoke a joint and they are all horrified by his incredible hypocrisy and run him out of town.
A similar story played out recently. This time, however, it was a 21-year-old woman — and it wasn’t cocaine, it was lemonade.
According to a lawsuit filed by Michael and Jill Katz last week, their daughter Sarah Katz died of cardiac arrest after drinking a “Charged Lemonade” at Panera. 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,” but it was actually a lemonade energy drink containing 390 mg of caffeine, which is a lot of caffeine. It’s the equivalent of about two and a half Venti lattes or three Red Bulls. No Doz caffeine pills? They’re only 200 mg.
Katz had been diagnosed at a young age with a heart condition — Long QT Type 1 Syndrome — and was careful about not having too much caffeine. She likely would have refrained from drinking the beverage had she known how much was in it. She didn’t, because the in-store advertising compared the caffeine content in the drink to a dark roast coffee (which actually ranges 161 mg to 268 mg, depending on size). The coffee also does not have any added sugar, while the lemonade has 65-82 grams depending on size. For reference, the average for a can of soda is 32 grams.
The name “Charged Lemonade” is also not necessarily going to be an indication for everyone that it is an energy drink — “charged” could also refer to flavor or antioxidants or something like that.
The thing is, as Rolling Stone points out, people have been warning about the Charged Lemonades on social media for months now — with users on TikTok and the r/Panera subreddit, some of whom are (allegedly) Panera employees themselves. There are tons of posts from people talking about uncontrollable shaking, jitters, heart palpitations, being unable to sleep and “feeling like ”[they’re] going to die.”
It actually did become enough of a well-known issue that Panera finally moved the drinks behind the counter, although they still offer free refills.
In a post on Reddit, from a year ago, one worker wrote a post titled “We should get rid of charged lemonades ASAP” and then went on to describe how readily available they are to children.
All the time I see kids drinking them and they have so much caffeine… I don’t think we should have it in the store or we either need to add a warning/keep in BOH. Also, keeping them in the front bubblers is a huge loss of product + money. We all know people who take a cup from the kiosks without paying. I just don’t think they’re a good idea to have in our store + I think they promote the wrong ideas for Panera :/ having this drink taste super sugary and like soda to kids while having too much caffeine is not good. Also- we do our best to tell customers that the caffeine count is high but either they underestimate it or don’t ask for a charged lemonade, just a bubbler drink.
I drink an iced coffee every day and I had the same amount of the charged lemonade and I shook my whole shift.
That’s not good!
Kids have died in the past from ingesting too much caffeine. In 2018, a 16-old boy died from a cardiac event after ingesting “a latte from McDonald’s, a large Mountain Dew drink and a highly caffeinated energy drink in just under two hours.” Which, uh, is less than or about the same amount of caffeine as in one of these lemonades. That kid didn’t have any underlying or undiagnosed heart conditions.
At issue in the lawsuit is also the fact that Panera has an Unlimited Sip Club, which allows people to pay $11.99 a month for as many drinks as they want (one every two hours in general, unlimited refills while there) and includes the Charged Lemonades.
Now, you would think that, upon hearing about the lawsuit, Panera would immediately stop selling the lemonades. They have not! What they’ve done is put up a warning sign that, frankly, will probably make the drink seem super cool to teenagers — some of whom could very well have undiagnosed heart conditions.
You will note that the sign still does not list the amount of caffeine that is actually in the drink, which is important given how excessive it is. I have a mild heart condition (mitral valve prolapse) and drink normal coffee drinks just fine. Reading this sign, I would still assume the lemonade had about the same amount of caffeine as coffee, not 390 mg of it (which is a huge amount!). I’m not saying I’d drop dead (although my parents did tell me Len Bias had the condition, which is not true), but I wouldn’t consume that much caffeine on purpose. Certainly not at the rate one drinks lemonade as opposed to coffee.
Now, I am super, super liberal when it comes to letting people do what they want with their own bodies so long as they’re not bothering anyone else. I even think all drugs should be decriminalized! I also do not think Panera should be selling lemonade that is known to have killed a person. Because it’s not a drug, it’s a lemonade at freaking Panera and in no way could anyone reasonably assume that a glass of lemonade, prepared the way it’s supposed to be prepared, could kill them.