Pret accused of taking unnecessary risks by allergy sufferers

Allergy sufferers hospitalised after eating Pret a Manger sandwiches have demanded change to the company’s labelling.

The coroner leading an inquest into the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse has also described the allergy labelling at Pret as “inadequate”.

Ms Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who was allergic to sesame seeds, died after eating a baguette from the food chain after being “reassured” by the lack of specific allergen information on the pack, the coroner found.

One allergy sufferer, who says she was hospitalised in 2017 after eating an unlabelled sandwich, said the company was “taking unnecessary risks”.

“Other vendors have labels. Why wouldn’t they?” she said.

Pret a Manger chief executive Clive Schlee promised “meaningful change” in the wake of the coroner’s findings.

Beatrice, whose real identity the BBC has agreed not to disclose, was in hospital for 12 hours when she suffered an allergic reaction after eating a cheese sandwich from Pret.

Like Ms Ednan-Laperouse, she is allergic to sesame seeds.

“Unbeknown to me [the sandwich] contained sesame seeds,” she told the BBC. “They weren’t visible or labelled.”

She was at work when she felt the reaction coming on.

“I took anti-histamines and went straight to hospital. I told staff there I would go into anaphylactic shock in 10 minutes,” she said.

“It was the worst I’ve ever had. I was held upside down, put on oxygen and had more shots than I’ve ever had in my life.”

After posting a photo from her hospital bed detailing the incident on social media, Beatrice was contacted by the company’s “apologetic” managing director.

She told him: “You need to stick labels on your food before you kill someone.”

The executive offered her a voucher, she says, but Beatrice was more interested in the labelling.

“I didn’t do it to get money. I wanted to see a change,” she told the BBC.

She was told that a pilot was coming up in December 2017 or early 2018, in which stickers would be added to all packaging.

“They’re taking unnecessary risks. It’s not a viable business model when your company ends up in the media when someone eats your sandwich and dies.”

Everything labelled

Amelia Zekavica, a law student aged 20, is allergic to nuts, pulses, sesame seeds and “almost anything furry” she told the BBC.

She described how when she was 18 years old, she fell ill within five minutes of eating a Chicken Caesar sandwich from Pret.

“I was quite scared. It’s so terrifying when you have these kinds of allergies. It’s like your own body is just killing itself.”

Her mother made her vomit and gave her some anti-histamine tablets to get the swelling down from her lips and throat.

At home, Amelia rested while her mother called the store to ask about the ingredients. Her father Milan recalled what happened next:

“Pret were no help whatsoever. They told my wife everything was online.

“We went on their website and found there was sesame in the Caesar dressing but this was not indicated on the packaging or in store.”

Amelia became progressively unwell and spent four hours in A&E. “Luckily she shook it off,” said Milan.

This is not the first time Amelia has had a bad allergic reaction.

“I’m always very careful. Each reaction is different and they can get progressively worse.

“When my mum and dad told me about the girl who’d died, it really struck a chord. The food industry should understand that there are people out there who have allergies.

“People can die. This is not stressed enough. Celiac awareness is stressed a lot – it’s also bad but they don’t die from it.

“The food industry needs to list all of the ingredients on the packaging. You shouldn’t have to check online or ask for an ingredients book. Everything should be labelled.”

A spokesperson for Pret a Manger said: “We are very sorry for Amelia’s experience and we would like to invite her and her family to get back in touch so we can give them the apology they deserve.”

‘Meaningful change’

Mr Schlee, who joined Pret as CEO in 2003, said the company was “deeply sorry for Natasha’s death”.

“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.

“All of us at Pret want meaningful change to come from this tragedy. We will ensure it does.”

Interviews by Sherie Ryder UGC and Social News team

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BBC News – Health