Advising with empathy and experience

Family call for better testing after fatal reaction to 'vegan' wrap.


The family of a woman with a severe dairy allergy who died after eating a “vegan” Pret a Manger wrap contaminated with milk protein claim more people will die unless comprehensive testing throughout the food supply chain and better labelling are introduced.

Celia Marsh’s family also said they believed she would still be alive if a company in Kent that made a coconut yoghurt added to the wrap had told Pret there was a risk it could have been contaminated because it was made in a factory that used milk.

Marsh, 42, a dental nurse from Melksham, Wiltshire, died two hours after eating a “super-veg rainbow flatbread” bought from a Pret a Manger in Bath during a post-Christmas shopping trip in 2017.

In a narrative conclusion to the inquest into Celia March’s death, senior coroner for Avon, Maria Voisin, concluded that the wrap contained a “dairy-free coconut yoghurt alternative” supplied to Pret a Manger by Planet Coconut. She said the yoghurt included milk protein, which caused Marsh’s anaphylaxis.

Maria Voisin said the contamination arose because a stabiliser in the yoghurt called HG1 had become contaminated during its manufacture at Tate & Lyle’s plant in north Wales. She added: “A product which is marked dairy-free should be free from dairy.”

The inquest heard that Tate & Lyle sent the HG1 to Planet Coconut in bags making clear they were not made in an allergen-free area and Planet Coconut had documentation that flagged the risk. However, the coroner said that Pret a Manger had not been notified of this risk.

The coroner said she would write to the Food Standards Agency raising concerns about the labelling on products claiming to be dairy-free and the testing process.

Outside court, Marsh’s daughter Ashleigh Grice, 27, said Marsh was “our rock, the soul of the family.”

She added: “On that terrible day she trusted the labelling in the Pret a Manger store. But the vegan wrap had been contaminated. The contents were poisonous to her.”

She added that there was a “woeful lack of testing” in the food supply chain and too much “vague labelling” such as “may contain”. She also claimed there was a failure in the healthcare system to help people with serious food allergies.

Asheigh Grace added: “If Planet Coconut had passed on the warnings in their possession to Pret a Manger about the risk of cross-contamination, Mum would still be alive today. Mum’s death, like so many allergy deaths, was entirely avoidable.”

Marsh’s husband, Andy, 51, said: “I want to see testing at every stage of the process to make sure nothing gets through the cracks.”

Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, whose 15-year-old daughter, Natasha, died in 2016 after eating a Pret  a Manger baguette containing sesame seeds, said: “Celia died one year after we lost our own daughter Natasha, who also died from an allergic reaction to food she considered safe to eat. We need urgent reform of the flawed and misleading precautionary allergen labelling system.”

The Marsh family and Ednan-Laperouse called for anaphylaxis to be recognised as a notifiable disease.

Ednan-Laperouse said: “This would result in instant precautionary product recalls, which could save lives, and an accurate picture of the true toll of the numbers of serious incidents and fatalities,”

Chief executive of Pret a Manger, Pano Christou, the, said: “As the coroner made clear, Planet Coconut had information which should have alerted them that their yoghurt may have contained milk and this information was not passed on to Pret.

“It goes without saying that if Pret had ever known that the yoghurt may have contained milk, we would have never used the ingredient. We have taken significant steps forward with our suppliers and labelling policies since 2017.”

In a statement, Planet Coconut said it bought a licence from a company called CoYo in Australia to manufacture and sell a dairy-free coconut yoghurt in the UK.

The company added that it was obliged to buy the HG1 from CoYo and was given “many assurances” by CoYo that the stabiliser was made in a dairy-free production environment.

CoYo said during the inquest that, under the licensing agreement, Planet Coconut was obliged to ensure the HG1 it used was dairy-free.