Family Sues Panera After Allergic Child Served Sandwich with Peanut Butter

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A Massachusetts family is suing Panera after their daughter was served a grilled cheese sandwich that contained peanut butter. The parents, John and Elissa Russo, aren’t suing because the sandwich was a curious and gross gourmet choice; rather their six-year-old daughter is highly allergic to peanuts. The unfortunate incident led to an overnight hospital stay for the child.

The lawsuit states that the Russos placed an order online at their local Panera in Natick, Massachusetts in January. Elissa, who completed the form, wrote in two separate places that her daughter has a peanut allergy. To people who don’t have a food allergy, that may seem strange–after all, why would you warn about a peanut allergy on an order for a grilled cheese sandwich? But it’s a pretty automatic step for someone with a food allergy (or the parent of a child with a food allergy)–it helps avoid “cross-contamination”–which happens when someone preparing the food uses tools or surfaces that have touched nuts on a nut-free meal. Essentially the Russos were asking that the Panera worker making the sandwich take simple steps like changing his gloves, or wiping down the counter before preparing the food.

But in a strange turn of events, when the Russos’ daughter bit into her grilled cheese, there was a large dollop of peanut butter in it. After she began vomiting, they brought her to the hospital where she developed other symptoms and had to stay the night.

It’s unclear exactly how the peanut butter ended up on the sandwich. When John Russo called the Panera, it was explained as a “language” issue. According to the Boston Globe:

Conceivably, an employee with limited English could have seen the notation of ‘peanut’ as an instruction to add it to the grilled cheese rather than to keep it out of the sandwich.

But Russo said that explanation was ‘no excuse’ and didn’t even strike him as plausible. Since the online order twice said ‘peanut allergy,’ he asked, ‘Did they just see ‘peanut’ and not the ‘allergy’ part?’

The Russos’ lawsuit alleges that the franchise was “unfair and deceptive” when it put the peanut butter in the sandwich. They also are claiming “intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress and assault and battery.”

It’s tough to eat out when you have dietary restrictions–from nut allergies to celiac, food concerns are growing in the U.S. It’s important that restaurants put safeguards in place to ensure that allergens don’t make it into their customers’ orders–for some, it can be a fatal error.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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