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Panera sued for serving peanut butter to child with severe allergy

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The fast-casual chain is being sued over serving peanut butter to a customer with a severe peanut allergy. (Panera Bread)

Panera Bread has been slapped with a lawsuit after a young customer with a life-threatening peanut allergy was allegedly served a grilled cheese sandwich that contained peanut butter at a Massachusetts restaurant location.

According to the suit, filed suit last week in Middlesex Superior Court of Massachusetts, customer Elissa Russo used Panera’s online system Jan. 28 to place an order for her family. She noted in two places that the grilled cheese was for a child with a peanut allergy, according to The Boston Globe.

When Elissa’s husband John arrived home later that evening, he discovered that his daughter, who was 5 at the time of the incident, had bitten into a grilled cheese that contained “lots of peanut butter.”

The couple rushed their daughter to the hospital where she reportedly suffered from an upset stomach and  hives over her entire body. The girl was discharged the following morning after being administered a shot of epinephrine.

Russo told the Boston Globe that he called the Panera that night and asked the manager, "Is someone doing this on purpose? Because it's two freakin' table spoons of peanut butter on this sandwich, and it's a grilled cheese."

The manager reportedly apologized and blamed the mistake on a language issue, suggesting that a worker with “limited English” saw the word “peanut” and assumed the customer wanted it added into the sandwich.  

According to the lawsuit, a similar mistake happened a month later at the Wayland Panera. A grilled cheese arrived with peanut butter and caused a child to suffer from an anaphylactic reaction.

But Panera includes this advisory on its website: “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.”

Russo's attorney, however, said this isn't just a case of accidental cross contamination since the action to include peanut butter in the order may have been deliberate. Among the other allegations in the complaint are intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery.

In May, the owner of an Indian restaurant in the U.K. was sentenced to six years in prison, after a customer, who suffered from a peanut allergy requested “no nuts” in his chicken tikka masala, went into anaphylactic shock and died after eating the dish. The owner of that curry restaurant had replaced the almond powder in his recipes with a cheaper ground nut mix that contained peanuts, without disclosing the new recipe to customers.