Pret a Manger’s allergy labelling was inadequate, the coroner in the case of a girl who died after eating a baguette from the food chain has said.
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, went into cardiac arrest on a flight after buying a sandwich at Heathrow Airport in 2016.
She was “reassured” by the lack of specific allergen information on the packaging, the coroner found.
Natasha’s family said food labelling laws “played Russian roulette with our daughter’s life”.
Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, Natasha’s father, said the inquest should “serve as a watershed moment to make meaningful change and save lives”.
Coroner Dr Sean Cummings said he would be reporting to the government over whether large businesses should be able to benefit from regulations that allow reduced food labelling for products made in shops.
Pret a Manger said it was “deeply sorry for Natasha’s death”.
Natasha, from Fulham, west London, ate an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette bought from a Pret shop at about 07:00 BST in Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on 17 July 2016, West London Coroner’s Court heard.
She began to feel ill about 20 minutes into the British Airways flight, and suffered a cardiac arrest. She died later the same day.
The inquest heard the baguette contained sesame – which Natasha was allergic to – but the ingredient was not listed on the packaging.
Dr Cummings said he would be writing to Pret about its practices of collecting information on allergic reactions and responding to serious concerns.
“I was left with the impression that Pret had not addressed the fact that monitoring food allergy in a business selling more than 200 million items year was something to be taken very seriously indeed,” Dr Cummings said.
The inquest heard Pret did not label “artisan” baguettes as containing sesame seeds despite six allergic reaction cases in the year before Natasha died.
The family’s lawyer Jill Paterson, from Leigh Day, said: “The law as it stands currently treats multinational companies in the same way as a local sandwich shop. This cannot be right.”
Under current food regulations non pre-packaged fresh food made on the premises does not need to be individually labelled with allergen or ingredient information.
Despite her father administering two EpiPen injections, Natasha died in a hospital in Nice within hours of eating the sandwich.
“Natasha said that she still couldn’t breathe and desperately looked at me, she said ‘Daddy, help me, I can’t breathe’,” Mr Ednan-Laperouse said in a statement.
The court heard the EpiPens – used to treat severe allergic reactions – administered by Natasha’s father had a 16mm needle “which may be insufficient for adrenalin to reach the muscle”.
Consultant allergist Dr Alexandra Croom had told the inquest it would be “impossible to tell” if a longer needle would have improved Natasha’s treatment, as some forms of shock are resistant to adrenaline.
At the inquest’s conclusion Dr Cummings said he would be making the following reports:
- To Pret A Manger about collecting information on allergic reactions and responding to serious concerns
- To the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and to the manufacturers of the Epipen about the apparently inadequate length of the needle and the dosage of adrenaline within the device
- To Environment Secretary Michael Gove about whether large food business operators should benefit from current regulations.
In a statement ahead of this week’s hearing, Natasha’s parents said she loved horse-riding and ice-skating, and wanted to pursue a career in law.
She had just finished school for the summer and was on her way to Nice for a four-day “special treat” with her best friend, Bethany, and her father.
She had been “so excited” about what was going to be “her best summer ever”, they added.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “This is a deeply upsetting situation and my heart goes out to the family of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.
“We are currently reviewing our approach to food labelling to give consumers more information. We await the findings of the inquest and stand ready to take appropriate action.”
Pret chief executive Clive Schlee said: “We cannot begin to comprehend the pain the family have felt, and the grief they will continue to feel.
“We’ve listened to everything the coroner and Natasha’s family have said this week and we will learn from it.”