The relatives of Celia Marsh, a 42-year-old woman who tragically passed away after consuming a Pret a Manger wrap labelled as "vegan" but containing dairy traces, express deep concerns regarding the ongoing risks faced by allergy sufferers. Marsh, afflicted with a severe dairy allergy, purchased the wrap in Bath in 2017, leading to her untimely death.
Ashleigh Grice, Marsh's daughter, emphasises the necessity for swifter advancements in allergy safety measures despite a report from the coroner aiming to prevent similar incidents in the future. In response to the tragedy, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) revised its food labelling advice.
Post the coroner's inquiry, the family urges enhancements in food testing, labels, and overall healthcare. Coroner Maria Voisin's 2022 report advised multiple strategies, including the critical need for a comprehensive method to monitor anaphylaxis cases. This approach would serve as an early alert system, identifying products posing potential threats due to undisclosed allergens. Voisin, the senior coroner for Avon, also highlighted the importance of verifying food correctly marked as "allergen-free" or "vegan".
Subsequently, the FSA updated its allergen guidance for businesses, specifically concerning vegan product labelling. FSA representative Natasha James explains, "The guidance suggests using a precautionary allergen label, or 'may contain' warning, on vegan products if there's a cross-contamination risk with animal-derived allergens like fish, shellfish, milk, or eggs."
Pret a Manger claims substantial progress since 2017, citing improved supplier relationships and labelling procedures. However, Grice, a resident of Lacock, Wiltshire, calls for further implementation of the coroner's recommendations, including enhanced testing and quality assurance for allergen-free products. She expresses fear over potential repeat incidents: "I'm quite concerned about the lack of immediate change, as it raises the frightening possibility of another family enduring what we have."
Recalling the fateful post-Christmas shopping trip in 2017, Grice describes how her mother, from Melksham, Wiltshire, collapsed and subsequently died after eating what she believed was a dairy-free wrap. Committed to advocating for change, Grice participates in the Bath Half Marathon in memory of her mother and to support the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, established following Natasha Ednan Laperouse's death caused by an allergic reaction to a Pret baguette in 2016.
Determined to maintain awareness, Grice remarks, "I believe my mum would be proud, though she'd find my marathon effort a bit mad. I'll be running with her photo, hoping it might initiate conversations and spread awareness." She acknowledges increased public understanding following the introduction of Natasha's law but recognises the prevailing lack of awareness.
Simone Miles, CEO of Allergy UK, asserts that allergies need more serious attention. She advocates for sustained investment in a UK Fatal Anaphylaxis Registry, addressing the coroner's recommendations. "The lack of funding, despite unanimous support within the allergic community, is disheartening," Miles comments. She acknowledges ongoing talks to enhance food labelling and allergen-free product control but notes minimal regulatory tightening or product testing progress. "We're yet to see definitive results from these discussions, but we're optimistic about eventual improvements."
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