Natasha Inquest: Coroner Finds Inadequate Allergy Labeling Led to Teen’s Death

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in Food Allergy, News
Published: September 28, 2018
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse

A British coroner plans to call for a review of a labeling loophole that allowed a giant sandwich chain to sell a baguette to a teenager without full allergen information. The use of undeclared sesame in the baguette that Natasha Ednan-Laperouse purchased and then ate aboard a British Airways flight to Nice, France, led to her death.

In his findings from a four-day inquest, which began Sept. 24, Coroner Dr. Sean Cummings concludes that 15-year-old Natasha died of a “catastrophic anaphylactic reaction from which she could not be saved.”

On July 17, 2016, the teen purchased and ate an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from a Pret a Manger shop in Heathrow Airport before boarding her flight with her father, Nadim Ednan-Laperouse and her best friend. Since she had allergies, including sesame, she read the label before choosing her sandwich. The baguette Natasha purchased gave “no indication or mention that sesame seeds were present,” her father previously told the inquest.

Sesame is one of 14 allergens required to be labeled under EU allergen regulations – except an exemption from labeling is made for foods prepared in on-site kitchens (such as Pret a Manger’s) and wrapped fresh daily.

This same exemption is provided in the United States and Canada. And despite lobbying, the U.S. allergen legislation still does not consider sesame a priority allergen.

Airlines and Anaphylaxis: Lessons from Natasha’s Tragedy

Speaking to reporters outside the court on Sept. 28, Ednan-Laperouse said his daughter’s inquest should serve “as a watershed moment to make meaningful change and to save lives.” He criticized “inadequate labeling laws,” and said it feels like the allergen law was “playing Russian Roulette with our daughter’s life.”

Cummings told the West London Coroner’s Court he would be writing to Michael Gove, the U.K. secretary for environment, food and rural affairs, about “whether large food business operations should benefit” from allergen labeling exemptions, according to The Guardian.

“Overall I was left with the impression that Pret had not addressed the fact that monitoring food allergy in a business selling more than 200 million items a year was something to be taken very seriously indeed,” Cummings said, reported The Guardian.

In addition, the coroner will write a report to Pret a Manger “in relation to collecting information on allergic reactions and responding to serious concerns.”

Earlier this week, the inquest heard that the chain had a log documenting a total of 21 allergic reactions to its food in the year before Natasha died. Of these cases, nine involved sesame – and six appear to relate to the artisan baguettes, which have sesame baked into the dough.

“It’s clear that the food labeling laws as they stand today are not fit for purpose and it is time to change the law,” Ednan-Laperouse said, standing alongside Natasha’s mother, Tanya, and her brother, Alex. “We are also shocked to learn that there have been a number of previous serious allergic incidents involving sesame seeds at Pret a Manger before our daughter died.”

Pret a Manger’s chief executive, Clive Schlee, said all the staff at Pret “want to see meaningful change  come from this tragedy.” He also said they are deeply sorry for Natasha’s death.

The third report that Cummings will write is to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and the manufacturer of EpiPens, to inquire about the dose of epinephrine in the devices, according to The Guardian.

Opinion: Anaphylaxis in the Air – What We Learned from Natasha’s Allergy Tragedy
Day 1 of inquest: Teenager’s Fatal In-Flight Reaction Raises Food Allergy Labeling Loophole
Day 2 of inquest: Chain Knew of 21 Reactions to Its Food in Year Before Teen’s Fatal In-Flight Reaction
Day 3 of inquest: Airline Crew Did Not Use Defibrillator on Teen Who Had In-Flight Anaphylaxis