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Panera says it is phasing out its controversial Charged Lemonade nationwide

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

The beverages prompted 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 a 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, which claimed the beverage left her with “permanent cardiac injuries.”

A spokesperson for Panera 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 focusing next on the broad array of beverages we know our guests desire — ranging from exciting, on-trend flavors, to low sugar and low-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 that at 390 milligrams, a large, 30-fluid-ounce Charged Lemonade has more caffeine in total than any size of Panera’s dark roast coffee, referring to the amount of caffeine that is in the drink with no ice. Panera has since updated its nutrition information to reflect how much caffeine is in the Charged Lemonade with ice, listing the large size of the blood orange Charged Lemonade, for example, as having 302 milligrams.

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

After NBC News broke news of the first lawsuit, which referred to Charged Lemonade as “a dangerous energy drink,” Panera put more detailed disclosures in 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 nursing women. 

A friend said Katz likely had no idea there was caffeine in the beverage when she purchased it before her death. 

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

Panera has previously expressed sympathy for the Katz and the Brown families. Following the second suit, it said in a statement that it felt the customer’s “unfortunate passing was not caused by one of the company’s products” and said that it stands by the safety of the items on its 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 be ordering ingredients to make Charged Lemonade. 

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

The first employee identified himself as an associate 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 the Queens borough of New York City on Tuesday morning, three associates 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, who represents the plaintiffs in the three lawsuits, said Tuesday that Panera had taken a “good step.” 

“This is exactly what we set out to do, to some extent, is to make sure that this poison is taken off the shelves,” she said in an exclusive interview with NBC News. “Obviously, it won’t bring back Sarah, and it won’t bring back Dennis, and the life that Lauren used to have.” 

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

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