The Real Reason Panera Freezes Their Soup

In viral behind-the-counter restaurant news: Panera Bread keeps a majority of their menu items frozen, including their soup. On Reddit, former Panera employees have come forward sharing that most food items are precooked by an outside distributor and delivered to Panera frozen, minus "bread and produce." One Redditor explained the process in vivid detail, "The soups are made at a factory/plant/etc, flash-frozen, shipped to us, and we thaw it out in what's called a thermalizer, essentially a soup-thawer." In other words, Panera workers are not back there making homemade broth.

This isn't the first time Panera's reputation for having "clean" and "fresh" ingredients has been challenged. In 2019, a Panera employee (who has since been fired because of this exposé) took to TikTok to show followers how Panera prepares their beloved mac and cheese (via USA Today). The TikTok in question opens with the worker setting a vacuum-packed bag of frozen mac and cheese into a tank of boiling hot water. After an allotted amount of time, the worker proceeds to take the now-cooked bag of pasta out of the boiling tub, tears it open, and pours it into a serving bowl.

These social media posts have sent Panera customers into an uproar, with many demanding an explanation.

Frozen meals still meet Panera's 'clean standards'

It might seem contradictory for an establishment to state it values "clean standards" and fresh ingredients to only keep a good portion of its menu frozen in the back, but that's the story Panera Bread is running with. After the great frozen mac and cheese TikTok debacle, a spokesperson on behalf of Panera spoke to USA Today about the viral clip, doubling down on the company's decision to freeze food. "We want to make sure that if you're in Massachusetts or California or in any one of our 2,100 locations that you get that same awesome experience," said Jessica Hesselschwerdt. In order to do that, Hesselschwerdt said Panera freezes items, such as soups, "to avoid using certain preservatives that do not meet our clean standards." "This is how we are efficient and how we make it consistent. We want that experience to be great, and that's the best way to do it," she quipped.

At the end of the day, Panera is not the lone soldier in this frozen food fight. If you do find this news unsettling, there are still plenty of healthy, fresh items you can order off Panera's menu if you want to steer clear of frozen ingredients. A good place to start would be looking for meals that are produce-based, like salads.