The family of a woman with an acute dairy allergy who died after eating a “dairy-free” Pret a Manger wrap has called for an overhaul of food labelling and testing.
Celia Marsh, 42, a dental nurse from Melksham, Wiltshire, died in December 2017 after eating a “super-veg rainbow flatbread” from the chain’s store in Bath.
Today, a coroner concluded that the mother-of-five’s death was the result of an “anaphylactic shock” due to contaminants in the dressing.
The inquest at Avon coroner’s court in Bristol heard that Marsh “religiously avoided” dairy products following a near-fatal allergic reaction a few months earlier after which she needed 15 shots of adrenaline. She had been on a post-Christmas shopping trip with her husband and three of her daughters when she went into the store at around 2pm. She was declared dead less than two hours later.
Testing on the coconut yoghurt used as dressing in the wraps found small quantities of dairy protein. Traces were also found in another rainbow wrap.
Maria Voisin, the senior coroner, said: “The wrap contained a product which was labelled as a dairy-free yoghurt alternative but, despite this, contained milk protein, which was the cause of Celia’s anaphylaxis.
“The contamination arose because an ingredient in the yoghurt called HG1 [a starch] had been cross-contaminated with milk protein during its manufacture.”
The company was charged with food safety failures after Marsh’s death but the prosecution was dropped due to lack of evidence. The court heard that Pret a Manger’s sandwiches were displayed next to a warning stating it could not guarantee its products were free from allergens.
Yesterday, in a statement, Marsh’s family said: “Celia was our rock, she was the soul of our family. She wasn’t just our mum, wife, daughter and sister. She was a best friend to us all. She was the family. She was our world. We miss her every day and will always carry the unbearable pain of her loss.”
They added: “There are many lessons to be learned from our loss to prevent other families suffering as we do: the woeful lack of testing in the food supply chain for products that claim to be dairy-free or free-from; the inconsistent use by food businesses of vague labelling such as ‘may contain’ and ‘produced in a factory where’ . . . And the failure of the healthcare system to help people with serious food allergies.
“As a family we believe that action must be taken now by the food industry and the government. We need better testing, better labelling and better healthcare to prevent other families having to carry the grief that we will always hold. Enough is enough.”
Guy Meakin, Pret a Manger’s interim managing director, expressed his “extreme sorrow” to Marsh’s family for their loss.
He told the inquest: “If we had known it had contained milk products we would never have used it.”
He said all products are now labelled with ingredients and Pret had introduced allergen risk assessments.
Planet Coconut, which made the dressing under licence from Australian brand CoYo, said that since Marsh’s death all products are tested for contaminants, irrespective of the source of the ingredients.News