Firms 'may be skirting labelling rules', coroner says after teenager dies from reaction to Pret a Manger sandwich

'There is a problem' with allergen disclosure regulations, says food safety expert

15-year-old died after suffering allergic reaction to Pret a Manger baguette, inquest will hear

A coroner at the inquest into the death of a teenager who suffered a fatal reaction after eating a Pret a Manger sandwich has expressed concerns about allergy labelling regulations.

Dr Sean Cummings said reduced labelling requirements may be being used by bigger businesses “to get around regulations”.

He spoke out at the inquest into the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who collapsed on a British Airways flight from London to Nice in July 2016 after suffering a fatal reaction to an artichoke, olive and tapenade sandwich which she had bought as she passed through Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5.

The teenager suffered from numerous allergies and reacted badly to sesame seeds “hidden” in the bread, which 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.

Hillingdon Council food safety officer Bridget Saunders told the inquest she had found no issues with the food labelling and allergy information during an inspection of the Pret branch in February 2016.

The inquest at West London Coroner’s Court has heard that food safety regulations allow businesses which produce food on site to provide reduced allergen labelling compared with factory-made products.

Ms Saunders said: “I think the distinction was made really to deal with small, independent high street premises which perhaps prepare food on site and put it into a bag to sell to customers coming in.”

She added: “The regulations make no distinction with Pret, with their huge turnover.”

Dr Cummings said: “It seems a little strange a local sandwich shop could benefit from that regulation but an organisation that sells 218 million items [a year] should also benefit from that regulation.”

“Yes, I would agree,” said the witness.

The coroner continued: “A cynic might think it was almost a device to get around regulations relating to identifying food allergens.”

Ms Saunders appeared emotional as she addressed Natasha’s family, telling them: “I’m a food safety officer. My job is to ensure food outside the home is safe. I visited Pret a Manger five months before your daughter died.

“My opinion is there is a problem. I wouldn’t like to speculate what the problem is, that’s the role of the inquest. My job is to enforce the law as it stands and I did that.”

British Airways cabin crew were also questioned over their response to Natasha’s fatal reaction at the inquest, which heard an on-board defibrillator was not used during the flight.

Mario Ballestri, who helped junior doctor Thomas Pearson-Jones as he performed CPR on Natasha, said it would have been too dangerous to get the device from the other end of the aircraft when she went into cardiac arrest minutes before landing.

Head of cabin crew John Harris was also asked why BA staff had not got the defibrillator.

Mr Harris said: “Without sounding harsh, the coverage of doors takes priority.”

He explained that it was a formal requirement of his training to ensure cabin crew were in position on landing so they could get passengers off the aircraft in case of an emergency.

“There were only five cabin crew on that particular flight and the aircraft had four sets of doors, totalling eight doors, and one cabin crew member was out of action.

“So we literally had the minimum number of crew to cover those doors,” he said.

The inquest heard that a defibrillator was used on Natasha after landing when Nice paramedics arrived.

The inquest continues and is due to last until Friday.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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