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Panera Sued for Serving Peanut Butter to Customer With Food Allergy

A five-year-old child was hospitalized

Scott Olson/Getty Images

What the heck is peanut butter doing in a grilled cheese? Fast-casual chain Panera is being sued for negligence after a five-year-old girl with a severe peanut allergy was hospitalized after eating food from the restaurant, reports the Boston Globe.

The child's mother placed an order via Panera's online system in January, noting in two separate fields that a grilled cheese sandwich was for someone with a peanut allergy. Instead, the suit filed in Middlesex County Superior Court says the sandwich was served "with a large dollop of peanut butter inside." After ingesting a bite of the sandwich, the child was taken to the hospital where she received a shot of epinephrine and stayed overnight.

The girl's father says the Panera location's manager "blamed the incident on a 'language' issue" in the kitchen. The lawsuit also mentions a nearly identical incident that allegedly occurred at a Panera in a nearby town, this one resulting in the diner going into anaphylactic shock.

The Globe points out a disclaimer on Panera's website reads, "Please note that we cannot guarantee that any of our menu items are free of allergens because we use shared equipment and handle common allergens throughout our supply chain and bakery-cafe." But one of the attorneys in the case points to the large amount of peanut butter that was present in the sandwich to argue that this isn't simply a case of cross-contamination.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Panera says, "Panera takes the issue of food allergens, including the reported incident at our franchise bakery-cafe, very seriously. We have procedures in place across the company to minimize exposure and risk for our guests and associates. We do not comment on pending litigation."

Restaurants playing fast and loose with food allergies can have disastrous consequences: A restaurateur in the UK was just convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in jail after the death of a customer with a peanut allergy. The restaurant owner had been repeatedly warned that he must disclose the presence of ground peanuts in menu items and failed to do so.