Meticulous attention to allergen labels is crucial for food purveyors.
Improper or insufficient labeling can cause severe illness or even death, not to mention generating a reputational crisis for a brand.
Ready-made sandwich chain Pret A Manger is defending its care for customers after a teenage girl died from an allergic reaction to the sesame seeds in its artisan baguette.
Pret failed to note the ingredient as an allergen on its packaging. In-store signs direct customers to ask staff about potential allergens in their products.
Pret a Manger’s food labelling failed to warn a 15-year-old girl who died after eating one of its baguettes that the sandwich contained allergens, an inquest has heard.
Concluding the hearing into the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, coroner Dr Sean Cummings recorded a narrative verdict, finding that the teenager was “reassured” by the lack of specific warnings on the packaging.
“Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died of anaphylaxis in Nice on July 17, 2016, after eating a baguette purchased from Pret a Manger at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5,” he said.
Pret A Manger has promised to make changes to avoid another similar incident.
Coroner Sean Cummings said that while regulators said this was within the law, “I am of the view that they were inadequate in terms of visibility.”
Clive Schlee, chief executive of the chain which has more than 500 stores including in Paris, Hong Kong, Dubai and several US cities, said it was “deeply sorry for Natasha’s death”.
“All of us at Pret want meaningful change to come from this tragedy. We will ensure that it does.”
Pret does have a list of potential allergens on its website, but the chart is dense and difficult to access. It could be especially difficult to consult the chart from a mobile device.
On Twitter, Pret shared a statement from its CEO:
All of us at Pret are devastated by the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse and our heartfelt thoughts go out to her family. Here’s the statement our CEO, Clive Schlee, made after the inquest today. pic.twitter.com/Gv0daqzdKs
— Pret (@Pret) September 28, 2018
This isn’t the first time Pret has been accused of poor labeling practices.
The global food chain received nine complaints of sesame-related allergy incidents, including six involving its “artisan baguettes,” in the year before Ednan-Laperouse died, the BBC reported, citing a company complaint log.
One of the cases involved a woman who nearly died after having an anaphylactic reaction after eating a baguette in 2015, according to the BBC. The outlet reported that her family warned Pret A Manger about labeling ingredients but that the chain did not explicitly label its sandwiches with allergy information at the time.
Business Insider understands that at the time of Ednan-Laperouse’s death, Pret A Manager had been in the process of making allergen information clearer to customers.
At the time, Pret A Manger had a guide detailing allergens in its foods posted in its shops and on its website, but not on product-shelf tickets, Business Insider also understands. The chain had signs on fridges and at registers advising customers to speak to a manager to see the allergen guide.
The chain now lists all allergens, including sesame, on product-shelf tickets in the UK.
On Twitter, users held Pret accountable:
All food from cafes and shops should be marked with allergen information and ingredient information. Pret A Manger are in the wrong not listing the information because if the girl had seen the info she wouldn’t have bought the baguette and her death could have been avoided.
— Kelly Gray (@kelsa18) September 23, 2018
Pret A Manger Was Warned About Allergy Alerts A Year Before Teen’s Fatal Reaction To Baguette. Everything about this story is utterly tragic. https://t.co/nNMToYGTrm
— Jess Brammar (@jessbrammar) September 26, 2018
Others promised to eat elsewhere:
Specifically chose NOT to eat at Pret A Manger today. Simply not good enough and an utterly abject disregard for human life. That should not even be expected of a dodgy backstreet operator, but you have zero excuse #pretamanger https://t.co/MGA6Kg2u3e
— Michael Mada (@MichaelMada) September 24, 2018
Some called for all food producers to use more caution:
Heart-breaking story. Hope the inquest will find answers & recommend improvements to support people with allergies. As a general rule, producers pls don’t put key allergens in foods where there’s no label & it’s not obvious.https://t.co/h5S21u9J6U
— Jo Swinson (@joswinson) September 23, 2018
The girl’s grieving parents called for more awareness about food allergies.
“Society has to take it much more seriously. “It starts with a law saying if anything is pre-packaged, allergens have to be easily on show” Tanya Ednan-Laperouse’s daughter Natasha died after eating a baguette at Pret a Manger pic.twitter.com/n1ZZMjRk6j
— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) October 1, 2018
What do you think of Pret A Manger’s crisis response, PR Daily readers?