Update: Since writing this article; Pret A Manager has confirmed that a second customer has died from eating allegedly mislabeled food. In a statement released via Twitter, Pret identified COYO, the supplier of the “dairy-free” yogurt, as providing yogurt with traces of a dairy protein. This claim has been denied and described as “Unfounded” by COYO. Both customer deaths occurred in the UK.
Convenience sandwich maker, Pret a Manger, has realized the hard way why labeling matters far more than just for marketing. An innocent teenager recently died after consuming one of their sandwiches in an airport.
The 15-year-old girl was on a flight traveling from London Heathrow to Nice, France. Like many Euro-continental flights, passengers aren’t given much in the way of food on the flight, so grabbing a quick meal to go in the airport is commonplace. Natasha Ednan-Laperouse did exactly that, grabbing a baguette sandwich. Unknown to her, however, the meal also included sesame seeds, which she was allergic to.
Natasha likely consumed the sandwich as soon as the flight started moving. Approximately 25 minutes into the trip, her body reacted to the sesame seeds. Her throat grew gritty, the skin on her face flushed red, and hives started breaking out all over. Her father already knew about Natasha’s allergy enough and immediately treated Natasha with EpiPen injections, the standard emergency allergy treatment. But it had no real effect, and Natasha grew worse. The critical reaction began; she couldn’t breathe. Natasha begged her father for help, but it was too late by the time she was given oxygen. Natasha passed out.
Her body convulsed and suffered a heart attack. Every attempt was made to revive her while also using a defibrillator on the ground in Nice. There was some criticism after the fact why a compact defibrillator wasn’t on the plane, but the French coroner who examined the case afterward concluded it wouldn’t have made a difference. However, the coroner did point the finger at the sandwich food labeling for failing to properly detail the ingredients included. Pret, in its own defense, has pointed out that it displays clearly point out warnings for customers to ask about food allergies before buying products and eating them. But the bottom line is the current food-labeling requirements are being viewed as insufficient. And Natasha was not the only victim; there have been a number of cases with similar food allergy reactions.
Pret’s CEO, Clive Schlee, has publicly expressed extreme sorrow for the incident and Natasha’s death and took a cooperative position on future changes in food-labeling laws. However, Pret is not waiting for new regulation; the company targeted November for increased labeling to be included on its products going forward. Hopefully, there won’t be another Natasha on another flight; her death has been a hard way to learn the power of labeling and how much farther it goes beyond just basic marketing value.