Celia Marsh, who 'religiously' avoided dairy products after an earlier near-fatal allergic reaction, died in 2017 after eating a Pret a Manger Super Veg Rainbow Flatbread
A Pret a Manger customer died after suffering a fatal reaction to a wrap marked as vegan that contained traces of milk, a coroner has ruled.
Celia March, from Wiltshire, died in Bath in 2017 after eating a Super Veg Rainbow Flatbread from Pret a Manger.
According to her husband Andy, Celia ‘religiously’ avoided consuming dairy products, as the mother-of-five had suffered a near-fatal reaction just months earlier, requiring 15 shots of adrenaline.
But despite being marked as vegan, the wrap she bought contained a coconut yoghurt dressing, containing coconut yoghurt which the coroner said had been cross-contaminated with milk protein during manufacture.
Speaking outside court, Celia’s tearful daughter Ashleigh Grice called for ‘better testing, better labelling and better health care’ for those with allergies.
The family, who described Celia’s death as avoidable, also welcomed recommendations made by the coroner, including introducing compulsory testing for products which claim to be free from allergens, including dairy.
Pret a Manger wrap
The dressing contained coconut yoghurt from Australia-based company CoYo, which contained an ingredient called HG1.
Senior coroner Maria Voisin said: “The contamination arose because the ingredient HG1 was cross-contaminated during manufacture.
“The manufacturer of the dairy-free yoghurt had in its possession documents which flagged this risk, but this risk was not passed on to its customers.”
She reached her narrative conclusion following a two-week inquest into Celia’s death, concluding that the mother-of-five had suffered an anaphylactic shock as a result of eating the wrap which contained traces of milk.
“A product which is marked dairy-free should be, free from dairy,” said the coroner.
She also noted in her verdict that ‘Celia Marsh was not aware the wrap contained milk protein’.
‘Steps have been taken’
In a statement, Pret a Manger CEO Pano Christou, said: “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.”
He continued: “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.”
Pret a Manger no longer marks freshly made food items as ‘dairy free’ or free from any allergens.
Meanwhile, Bethany Eaton, managing director of Planet Coconut, which supplied the yoghurt to Pret a Manger, said she had been told by CoYo founder Henry Gosling that it was safe for people with allergies.
A spokesperson from COYO said: “In 2018, we learned the incredibly sad news that Mrs. Celia Marsh passed away after consuming a wrap purchased from a Pret A Manger store that contained a yoghurt-alternative product produced by our now former UK licensee Planet Coconut. This is a tragic incident, and we send our sympathies to Mrs Marsh’s family and loved ones.
“The inquest maintained both COYO and Henry Gosling were not parties of interest, and it determined the HG1 supplied by a third party directly to Planet Coconut was the cause of the milk contamination in the product.
“We were shocked to discover during the inquest that Planet Coconut, was aware the HG1 supplied to them had allergen warning statements; that they did not notify us of this potential contamination; and that they failed to conduct any testing of the HG1 or the product to determine if the product could still be sold as ‘dairy free’, in breach of the licence with us. We provided Planet Coconut with our recipes, and Planet Coconut had an obligation to ensure the products it manufactured were labelled in accordance with UK legislation and were ‘dairy free’.
“As a responsible food manufacturer that uses independent NATA (National Association of Tasting Authorities in Australia) certified laboratory testing, we maintain regular rigorous testing of ingredients and end products in Australia to ensure they are dairy free, kosher certified, certified organic foods, meet every food safety standard, and comply with all legal requirements. We welcome stricter regulation around food testing standards throughout the world to ensure that all parts of the supply chain adopt more rigorous testing standards with the aim of protecting consumers.”
If you are transitioning to a plant-based diet but have concerns around allergies, you can read our guide to vegan diets and food allergies to find out more
(Article updated 27th September 2022 to include a quote from COYO)