Pret was warned over allergy alerts year before girl’s death, inquest told

Pret A Manger did not label "artisan" baguettes as containing sesame seeds despite six allergic reaction cases in the year before a teenager's death, an inquest has heard.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, suffered a fatal reaction to a sandwich from the outlet, which she had not realised contained the ingredient, on July 17 2016.

An inquest at West London Coroner's Court was told the packaging failed to mention that sesame seeds were "hidden" in the dough.

On Tuesday, it emerged that a "specific warning" about the dangers of not signposting the allergen had been given to the food chain the previous year.

Pret baguettes described as "posh" or "artisan" were said to contain sesame seeds, including the artichoke, olive and tapenade one that Natasha ate.

A complaint log for the company from between July 17 and June 29 2015 showed nine cases of sesame-related allergy incidents.

Four of these involved customers requiring hospital treatment, while another went to a medical centre.

Six of the nine cases involved "artisan baguettes", including one woman who contacted the law firm representing Natasha's family after learning of her death.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse inquest
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after falling ill on a flight from London to Nice after eating a Pret A Manger sandwich (Family handout/PA)

Jeremy Hyam QC told the hearing that the woman had nearly died after suffering an anaphylactic reaction from sesame in the sandwich "nine months before Natasha's death".

Her father, a doctor, was present and helped prevent the episode turning fatal. She was 17 at the time.

The woman's mother contacted Pret customer services after hearing that allergy information was only available upon request, the email to Leigh Day said.

"My mother expressed her alarm at this and warned that, in her opinion, other similar adverse events could easily occur," it said.

Clear concern

Mr Hyam said this was a "specific warning", but Pret still failed to label sandwiches with allergy information.

Questioning Jonathan Perkins, the chain's director of risk and compliance, he said: "There was a clear concern being repeatedly raised that artisan baguettes were causing sesame seed allergy problems, which were not properly responded to by Pret."

Mr Perkins said: "We responded appropriately to each individual complaint at the time."

More than a year after the complaint, Pret changed the design of a label within its fridges that tells customers to ask staff for allergy information.

Under EU regulations, food companies are required to warn customers about allergy risks either on signs and packaging or orally, usually meaning they are told to inquire themselves.

Pret A Manger takeover
Pret A Manger is supposed to have stickers on its fridges telling customers to ask staff about allergy risks (Nick Ansell/PA)

Pret chooses to deliver allergy information orally and is supposed to have stickers within fridges telling customers to ask staff members for details.

Mr Hyam suggested on Monday that the approach lacked consistency, as Pret labelled some products "gluten free" and gives ingredient outlines on fridge shelves.

He also questioned the rigour with which the fridge labels were checked by staff, producing a photo taken eight days after Natasha's death which showed a Pret fridge without any allergy label.

Mr Perkins told the inquest that such an oversight would amount to a "serious failing".

Natasha, from Fulham, south-west London, collapsed on a British Airways flight from London to Nice, on her way to a four-day break with her father and best friend.

Two epipens were jabbed into her legs

The teenager, who suffered from numerous allergies, had bought the baguette from a Pret branch in Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5.

Her father claims there was no label on the fridge at the time.

The sesame seeds caused her throat to tighten and vicious red hives to flare up across her midriff, eventually triggering cardiac arrest.

Two epipens were jabbed into her legs, but the symptoms did not abate and she was declared dead the same day at a hospital in Nice.

Mr Perkins told the inquest: "I accept that there are a number of individuals who have had a very negative experience and tragic experience of consuming that, but I also look at all the customers and thousands of allergy sufferers who come through our doors and are able to shop safely."

The inquest is due to last until Friday.

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