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Student Dies After Drinking ‘Dangerous’ Lemonade From Popular Fast Food Chain

Credit: Family Handout & Facebook

A student died after consuming ‘dangerous’ lemonade at a popular fast food chain. 

Sarah Katz, who was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, drank a heavily caffeinated energy drink at Panera Bread that she may have believed was regular lemonade, her parents have alleged in a wrongful death suit against the chain.

The 21-year-old – who had a heart condition – suffered a cardiac arrest after purchasing the beverage and a second arrest after being transported to the hospital, according to court documents filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Katz’s parents are now seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

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In a statement to CNN, Panera says: “We were very saddened to learn this morning about the tragic passing of Sarah Katz, and our hearts go out to her family.

“At Panera, we strongly believe in transparency around our ingredients. We will work quickly to thoroughly investigate this matter.”

In an autopsy report obtained by CNN, Katz’s cause of death has been disclosed as cardiac arrhythmia due to long QT syndrome (LQTS).

According to the NHS, LQTS is a heart problem that affects how your heart beats – making it beat abnormally.

While there are no official symptoms, people have sought help after they have either fainted, suffered seizures or had heart palpitations.

Panera Bread
Student Sarah Katz died after consuming ‘dangerous’ lemonade at Panera Bread. Credit: Alamy

In a wrongful death lawsuit filed by her parents against Panera Bread – which was first seen by NBC – it was revealed that Katz was diagnosed with LQTS when she was five years old and took care of herself by taking medication and limiting the amount of caffeine she took.

Katz’s roommate and close friend, Victoria Rose Conroy, told NBC: “She was very, very vigilant about what she needed to do to keep herself safe.

“I guarantee if Sarah had known how much caffeine this was, she never would have touched it with a 10-foot pole.”

Most energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine, added sugars, vitamins – such as B vitamins – and other legal stimulants.

Panera’s ‘Charged Lemonade’ reportedly includes sugar, caffeine, coffee extract and guarana extract, which are both sources of caffeine.

Sarah Katz
Sarah Katz was reportedly diagnosed with a heart condition when she was five years old. Credit: Family Handout

Health professionals have warned that young people who consume energy drinks can encounter dangerous side effects, with the Mayo Clinic citing nervousness, insomnia, irritability and panic attacks.

The health organisation also warns that higher doses of energy drinks can lead to more threatening issues such as palpitations, tremors and agitation.

According to the suit, the 30-ounce ‘Charged Lemonade’ has about 390 milligrams of caffeine – with one large cup apparently having more caffeine than a 12-ounce can of Red Bull and a 16-ounce can of Monster combined.

The nutritional facts posted on the Panera website state that the beverage is ‘naturally flavoured, plant-based, and clean with about as much caffeine as our Dark Roast coffee’.

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However, the larger cup, which Katz apparently drank, has 124 grams of sugar and has a guarana extract – which is another stimulant to treat headaches and ‘increase wakefulnesses’, as per the National Institutes of Health.

The lawsuit alleges the ‘Charged Lemonade’ is ‘defective in design because it is a dangerous energy drink’.

“These unregulated beverages include no warning of any potentially dangerous effects, even the life-threatening effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and/or brain function,” it states.

According to Elizabeth Crawford, the attorney representing Katz’s parents, the university student had a Panera Sip Club membership that gives subscribers free in-store refills, so it’s not possible to know exactly how much she drank.

“We want to make sure that the drink includes a warning, or is taken off the shelf,” she told CNN.

“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.”

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Written by Rosario Monachino

Rosario is a former content editor at IGV who specialised in film, TV and entertainment news. He has a degree in English and Film from the University of Salford and a masters in Journalism from Liverpool John Moores University.