A coroner’s court in London has begun an inquest into the death of a 15-year-old girl who died from an allergic reaction after eating a sandwich that did not label sesame seeds as an ingredient.
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died in July 2016 after she ate an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette bought from a Pret a Manger store inside Heathrow Airport before boarding a plane.
The teenager had a sesame allergy, and it is believed sesame was baked into the baguette, rather than having seeds on the crust.
Natasha later collapsed on a British Airways flight from London to Nice, and was pronounced dead in a French hospital within hours.
In a statement, her father Nadim Ednan-Laperouse said he bought the baguette for Natasha because it had “all the ingredients she loved and could eat”, according to the BBC.
“I was stunned that a big food company like Pret could mislabel a sandwich and this could cause my daughter to die.
Pret a Manger told the BBC its products were not individually labelled, but signs on shelves and registers told customers to speak to a manager who could provide allergen advice.
The Guardian reports that while sesame is one of 14 allergens that must be listed in pre-packed foods in the EU, some fast food providers such as Pret do not have to label individual products — a practice supposed to stop small businesses from being tied down with regulations.
There are similar rules governing food labelling in Australia.
Fatalities from allergic reactions in Australia are on the rise
That’s according to Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia chief executive Maria Said.
She said between 2007 and 2013 there was a 10 per cent increase in the number of fatalities related to food allergies and a five-fold increase in hospitalisations.
A Melbourne study last year found more than 40 per cent of Australian adolescents with food allergies experienced frequent allergic reactions.
Similar to the EU, in Australia food that isn’t pre-packaged and is prepared on premises doesn’t need to carry warning labels and it’s up to consumers with allergies to disclose it in those cases, Ms Said said.
Ms Said said a “balanced” approach between regulations and greater public awareness was needed to avoid simple mistakes that have life-threatening consequences.
She said in one case in Australia, a woman died because of a mix up between a chef and a waiter led to her being served food with cheese in it, while her friend received the allergy-safe meal.
“We can put a flag in a medium-rare steak, so why not the same for something that doesn’t have milk in it? That’s a common sense approach,” she said.
“We can never guarantee that a food is safe, and we would never ask for it. But we’ve got to reduce the risk.”
Severe food allergies still carry a stigma
Ms Said said people were often quick to disclose other food preferences, like being a vegan or being on a special diet, but those with severe food allergies were often embarrassed by it.
“They won’t disclose it, or don’t talk about it as if it’s severe,” she said.
“They don’t want to be the friend that’s a drag; they say that it’ll be fine because they’ve been to this cafe before.
“But we all know that’s not the case.”
Ms Said said it was also up to those without severe allergies not to fake them for convenience.
“A customer might tell a waiter they’re allergic to milk, and then order a latte because ‘a little bit’s OK’. The next person that comes in that does have an allergy might not be taken as seriously,” she said.
“Everyone has a responsibility.”
She said Australia was the only country in the world with free allergy training for people working in food service.