Two people in England died after having allergic reactions linked to eating at Pret A Manger in different incidents.
Celia Marsh, 42, from Wiltshire, died in December 2017 after eating a “super-veg rainbow flatbread” which should have been dairy free.
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, died after eating a baguette from the sandwich chain in July 2016. She had a sesame allergy and the product was not listed with allergen information.
Current UK Food Regulation (2014) states that food businesses that sell freshly handmade, non-pre-packaged food do not have to individual label products and can provide allergy information in writing or verbally.
The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) called for a change of culture in businesses, regulation and enforcement.
Sterling Crew, chair of IFST’s food safety group, said: “I believe when businesses are fully complying with the regulations, and such tragic cases still occur, the law needs to be reviewed.”
Food allergens that must be labeled in Europe are celery; cereals with gluten – wheat, rye, barley and oats; crustaceans – prawns, crabs and lobsters; eggs; fish; lupin; milk; mollusks – mussels and oysters; mustard; tree nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios and macadamia nuts; peanuts; sesame seeds; soybeans and Sulphur dioxide and Sulphites (if at a concentration of more than ten parts per million).
This differs from the United States were only eight foods are identified by law: milk; eggs; fish; crustacean shellfish; tree nuts; peanuts; wheat and soybeans.
Dairy in dairy-free yogurt
In the case of Celia Marsh, Pret said it was mis-sold a dairy-free yoghurt which was found to contain dairy protein. However, the firm that sold the yoghurt said the claims were “unfounded”.
Pret said testing of the dairy-free yoghurt supplied by Coyo contained traces of dairy protein. The chain has terminated its relationship with Coyo and is taking legal action.
Coyo recalled dairy-free coconut yoghurts in February this year as they contained traces of dairy but said this was not related to the Pret allergy death.
“The dairy-free product we provided to Pret in December 2017, at the time of this tragedy, is not linked to the product we recalled in February 2018. The product recalled in 2018 was made with a contaminated raw material that was only supplied to us in January 2018,” the firm said in a statement.
“In February 2018…we issued a precautionary product recall after trace amounts of dairy ingredients were identified in materials used to make our product. This contamination was traced to a third-party supplier who we no longer work with. We urge all parties to work together, and not to speculate on the cause of this tragic death which is unknown as far as we are aware and is still being investigated by the coroner’s court.”
Sesame allergic reaction
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died following a severe allergic reaction to sesame after eating a baguette from Pret A Manger at Heathrow airport prior to boarding a British Airways flight for Nice, France. Sesame seeds had been baked into the dough.
Although her father administered adrenaline auto injectors that Natasha carried, she suffered cardiac arrest and died later the same day.
The Anaphylaxis Campaign, which supports people at risk of severe allergies, said it would back the recommendation made by the coroner to review the food information regulations on the labeling of pre-packaged food made on site for direct sale.
“We hope the review will cover all food business that sell food that has been prepared and packed on the same premises from which they are being sold, irrespective of the size of the business,” said the charity.
Clive Schlee, CEO of Pret, said it will start trialing new labels which show ingredients, including allergens, on packaging from next month before rolling this out to all UK shops.
“Pret is also committed to working with others, including the government, regulatory authorities, charity groups and industry peers to secure legislative changes to better protect people with allergies.”
Other changes include allergen warning stickers on all freshly made products, additional allergen warning signs displayed in shops and full ingredient information, including allergens, for all products available online and in shops.
A food safety lawyer at Leigh Day representing the family of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse joined calls for a ‘Natasha’s Law’ to force companies to label foods containing allergens.
Tina Patel said current laws are leaving consumers exposed to potential safety issues.
“We live busy lives, often grabbing food on the go, those who have food allergies need full protection which the current food regulations, which allow a company such as Pret, which sells 218 million items a year and is worth £1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) to operate in the same way as a small single-store sandwich shop, do not provide,” she said.
Patel said retailers need to take on a greater responsibility in ensuring the food they sell clearly displays all allergen information.
“The only way to ensure food retailers do this is to make it mandatory – this means the current food regulations need to be amended to compel them to do so. The onus should not be on the consumer to hunt for allergy information,” she said.
“There then needs to be a greater deterrent for non-compliant retailer. Currently penalties can be limited to a £5,000 fine ($6,500) which would not even amount to a slap on the wrist for multi-national food business operators who do not comply.”
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