On September 10, 2022, a student from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, mistakenly drank a high-caffeine drink which led to a deadly cardiac arrhythmia as a result of her pre-existing condition, long QT syndrome.
Sarah Katz, a 21-year-old student, was previously diagnosed with long QT syndrome type 1. This particular heart condition can result in abnormal heart rhythms when someone consumes significant amounts of caffeine. Acting on her doctor’s advice, Katz always made it a point to steer clear of products high in caffeine. With this in mind, she opted for the Charged Lemonade from Panera Bread, assuming it to be either regular lemonade or an electrolyte-filled sports drink with minimal caffeine.
However, to her detriment, this beverage packed a punch with 390 milligrams of caffeine, equating to over double the caffeine content in Red Bull or Monster energy drinks. Panera’s advertising portrayed this drink as “plant-based and clean”, suggesting that it was analogous to their dark roast coffee. To add, the lemonade also had an ingredient called guarana extract, an additional caffeine source, paired with a hefty dose of sugar.
NBC News was the first to shine a spotlight on the ensuing lawsuit. The legal complaint posits that Panera Bread didn’t adequately caution its customers about the Charged Lemonade’s high caffeine content. It further alleges that the drink’s design, manufacture, and labeling were all lacking, leading to an insufficient communication of the potential cardiac hazards tied to consuming such high levels of caffeine.
When considering caffeine and its effects, high doses have been known to impact the cardiovascular system. The FDA recommends a daily caffeine intake cap of 400 milligrams for healthy adults, which is roughly equivalent to the amount in four to five cups of coffee. Yet, an individual’s body weight, medication regimen, and personal sensitivities can all alter how caffeine affects them.
For those diagnosed with the long QT genetic heart disorder, symptoms can be as mild as fainting or as severe as sudden death. A study focusing on LQT1, the exact subtype of long QT syndrome that Katz had, underlines the perils of caffeine for patients. Notably, a 13-year-old with LQT1 suffered a notable QT prolongation after downing an energy drink containing 160 milligrams of caffeine.
Public reaction to Katz’s death has been widespread. There is a growing demand for better clarity in labeling the caffeine content of beverages available for purchase. Although Panera Bread did liken the Charged Lemonade’s caffeine content to that of their dark roast coffee, they didn’t provide an explicit amount. In the wake of the incident, Panera has expressed deep sorrow and committed to an exhaustive probe into the matter.
Katz’s unfortunate death underscores the inherent dangers tied to high-caffeine consumables and accentuates the need for transparency in labeling within the food and beverage sector. As this lawsuit unfolds, it’s very likely that we’ll witness a shift in the marketing and labeling of such products, ensuring patrons can judiciously manage their caffeine consumption.