Family of woman who died from Pret wrap call for stricter testing

‘This should never happen again’: Family of mother-of-five, 42, with dairy allergy who died after eating Pret a Manger vegan wrap contaminated with milk call for stricter food testing

  • Celia Marsh suffered a fatal reaction after eating a ‘super-veg rainbow flatbread’
  • She had a severe dairy allergy and believed the Pret vegan wrap to be dairy-free
  • But wrap actually contained ‘vegan’ yoghurt found to have traces of milk protein
  • Ms Marsh subsequently collapsed in a busy street and later died in hospital
  • Coroner today concluded cross-contamination risk not passed onto customers

The family of a mother-of five with an acute dairy allergy died after eating a Pret a Manger vegan wrap that was contaminated with traces of milk have called for stricter food testing.

Celia Marsh, 42, suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction after eating the £3.75 sandwich from a Pret store in Bath, Somerset, in December 2017.

The dental nurse from Melksham, Wiltshire, had a severe dairy allergy but believed the super-veg rainbow flatbread to be dairy-free.

But the coconut yoghurt used as dressing was later found to have traces of milk protein in it.

Mrs Marsh, who ‘religiously avoided’ all dairy products and carried an EpiPen with her, subsequently collapsed in a busy street and died in hospital two days after Christmas.

Ms Voisin today reached a narrative conclusion following a two-week inquest into Mrs Marsh’s death at Avon Coroner’s Court in Bristol, adding that lessons must be learnt to prevent future deaths.

The coroner concluded that Mrs Marsh died from ‘anaphylaxis triggered by the consumption of milk protein’ she had unknowingly consumed 15 minutes earlier.

She said the milk protein was found to be in the coconut yoghurt, which was made with HG1 starch and supplied by Tate and Lyle. 

The inquest heard that this starch was made in a factory that manufactures dairy products and therefore may have contained traces of milk.

Celia Marsh, 42, suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction after eating a ‘super-veg rainbow flatbread’ at a Pret store

Mrs Marsh’s family, including husband Andy, pictured arriving for her inquest earlier this month

Mrs Marsh had been enjoying a family meal at the Pret A Manger store (pictured) in Bath, Somerset, in December 2017.

But the yoghurt was labelled dairy-free and the risk of milk traces was not communicated to Pret.

Ms Voisin told the hearing: ‘She had a known allergy to milk. On that day in Bath city centre she had a super-veg rainbow flatbread which she believed was safe to eat.

‘She suffered an anaphylaxis caused by milk protein in the yoghurt in the wrap. This caused her to collapse and, despite the efforts of medical teams involved, she died.”

Ms Voisin continued: “Celia Marsh was allergic to milk. She died when she suffered anaphylaxis caused by consumption of a wrap contaminated with milk protein.

‘She was not aware that the wrap contained milk protein. The wrap contained a product with was labelled as 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 manufacturer of the dairy-free yoghurt had in its possession documentation that flagged this risk but this risk was not passed on to its customers.’

The product was supplied by Planet Coconut, a firm set up by ‘mumprenaur’ Bethany Eaton. She bought the licence to market and distribute COYO in the UK from its Australian founder Henry Gosling – and built it a multi-million pound business.

But the inquest heard she admitted not carrying out any testing of the raw product, which was made in a UK Tate and Lyle factory after relying on ‘assurances’ from Mr Gosling it was dairy free.  

Speaking after the verdict today, Celia’s husband Andy Marsh, 51, described his wife, who who he married in 2007, as his ‘best friend’ and called for tighter testing to be established.

Mrs Marsh, from Melksham, Wiltshire, suffered from a severe dairy allergy and later died in hospital from the reaction

Mrs Marsh’s family, including husband Andy, pictured arriving for her inquest earlier this month

The mother-of-five, pictured here with her husband Andy Marsh, was rushed to hospital after the incident in December 2017 but she sadly later died

Mrs Marsh died after eating a ‘super-veg rainbow flatbread’ (pictured) which had been contaminated with milk protein

Teenage girl, 15, died of allergic reaction to Pret a Manger baguette just a year earlier

Mrs Marsh’s death came just a year after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, died in similar circumstances when she suffered a reaction to hidden sesames in a Pret baguette in 2016.

She knew she was allergic to milk, eggs, banana, nuts and sesame seeds so along with her dad, Nadim, had checked the label carefully.

But the artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette contained sesame seeds that were baked into the dough and were not visible or listed in the ingredients.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret baguette

She went into anaphylactic shock within minutes of take off on a British Airways flight to France.

Despite efforts to give her adrenaline shots, she was unable to breathe and suffered a heart attack and later died in a French hospital on July 17, 2016.

Her father Nadim, 56, administered two Epi-pens — which delivered potentially lifesaving adrenaline to his daughter as she struggled to breathe.

But they did not work and she suffered multiple cardiac arrests.

He said: ‘Any manufacturer who makes something that is then labelled ‘free from’ has to take the responsibility for the testing to make sure it is exactly that.

‘I want to see testing at every stage of the process to make sure nothing gets through the cracks and to provide a safety net.

‘People with allergies are currently relying solely on the fact that the packaging says it is ‘free from’. Surely more testing along the way – even if it is more time consuming – would be better going forward.’

Pret a Manger chief executive Pano Christou said today that the incident ‘should never happen again’.

He added: ‘As a father and husband, I can only imagine how distressing this has been for Celia’s children and family. Our deepest sympathies remain with everyone who knew and loved Celia.

‘We fully support the coroner’s findings. As the coroner made clear, Planet Coconut had information which should have alerted them that their Coyo yoghurt may have contained milk and this information was not passed on to Pret.

‘It goes without saying that if Pret had ever known that the Coyo yoghurt may have contained milk, we would have never used the ingredient.

‘On Pret’s part, we have taken significant steps forward with our suppliers and labelling policies since 2017.

‘Through the Pret allergy plan, we made a clear commitment to lead the industry in developing new policies for people with food allergies. 

‘We will continue to do everything we can to help every customer get the information they need to make the right choice for them.’ 

Celia’s daughter Kayleigh Grice, 20, was shopping with her mother at the time, but had split to go for a separate lunch.

She said: ‘I do often think that if we had maybe gone with her, then maybe she wouldn’t have eaten the sandwich and she would still be there now.

‘But obviously Andy was with her, looking after her and checking on her anyway so you just can’t think like that.

‘Labelling has to be better for people with allergies. There has to be clearer messages.

‘Mum was so on it with labelling, she would triple check everything. If there was any hint that something may contain something she was allergic to, she wouldn’t touch it or even go anywhere near it.

‘Change has to come to make sure no other family goes through what we went through. This should not happen ever again.’

Brenna Grice, 22, told of the moment she returned to find that her mother had collapsed.

She said: ‘We walked down this street and saw a massive crowd – it was a very distressing scene. Someone we knew came up to us and told us it was our mum on the floor.

‘We could not believe that it was our mum. Even though she had allergies, I never believed this would happen to her.

‘I would not wish what had happened to us on any other family. After the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse you would think lessons would have been learned, and it would not happen again – but it has.’

Ms Ednan-Laperouse died in similar circumstances when she suffered a reaction to hidden sesames in a Pret baguette purchased at Heathrow Airport which did not display it had them as an ingredient.

She had a sesame allergy.

The tragedy sparked an overhaul of food labelling laws which now requires food retailers to display full ingredient and allergen labelling on every food item made on the premises and pre-packed for direct sale, including sandwiches, cakes and salads. 

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