The family criticizes the yogurt company for not pointing out the risk of allergens

The family of a woman with an acute dairy allergy who died after eating a milk-contaminated Pret a Manger sandwich say her death was “totally preventable.”

Celia Marsh, 42, a dental nurse from Melksham, Wiltshire, died on December 27, 2017 after eating a super vegetarian vegan wrap from the sandwich chain store Bath.

The yogurt dressing on the wrapper was later found to be contaminated with trace amounts of milk protein from a starch manufactured in a facility that handles dairy products.

The mother of five purchased the bandage at 2:08 pm and within 15 minutes went into acute anaphylactic shock.

She was pronounced dead at 4pm.

On Thursday, a coroner at the Avon Coroner’s Court in Bristol concluded that the yoghurt maker had documentation warning it of the risk of starch cross-contamination.

CoYo brand yogurt, which is Australian, was licensed for manufacture in the UK to a company called Planet Coconut.

The HG1 starch bags, produced by Tate and Lyle PLC, carried the warning “manufactured in a factory that handles milk, eggs, cereals containing gluten, sulfur dioxide and sulphites.”

Celia Marsh died after eating a sandwich contaminated with milk (Leigh Day/PA)

Coroner Maria Voisin said that Pret a Manger had not been alerted to the risk and that the yogurt was labeled “dairy-free”.

Ms Voisin said: “The (wrapper) contamination arose because an ingredient in the yoghurt called HG1 had been cross-contaminated with milk protein during manufacture.

“The manufacturer of the dairy-free yogurt had documentation in their possession indicating this risk, but this risk was not passed on to their customers.”

Speaking outside the inquest, Ms Marsh’s daughter, Ashleigh Grice, said: “It’s been almost five years since our mum Celia was taken from us, she knew she had a severe food allergy – because of that constant fear mum she was extremely cautious in everything she ate, checking every label, often triple-checking, for dairy products.

“That terrible day she trusted the ‘dairy free’ label at the Pret a Manger store, but the vegan wrapper was contaminated with milk protein.

“The contents were poisonous to her and she collapsed in the street.”

Ms Grice added: “It is now clear to us that if Planet Coconut had passed on the warnings in its possession to Pret a Manger about the risk of cross-contamination, mum would still be alive today.

“Mom’s death, like so many other allergy deaths, was completely preventable.”

Celia Marsh Research

Andy Marsh with his wife Celia Marsh (Leigh Day/PA)

Pret a Manger CEO Pano Christou said: “As a father and husband, I can only imagine how harrowing this has been for Celia’s children and family. Our deepest condolences go out to all who knew and loved Celia.

“We fully support the coroner’s findings. As the coroner made clear, Planet Coconut had information that should have alerted them that their Coyo yogurt might have contained milk and this information was not passed on to Pret.

“It goes without saying that if Pret had ever known that Coyo yogurt might have contained milk, we would never have used the ingredient.

“On behalf of Pret, we have taken significant steps with our suppliers and labeling policies since 2017.

“Through the Pret Allergy Plan, we have made a clear commitment to lead the industry in developing new policies for people with food allergies. We will continue to do everything we can to help each customer get the information they need to make the right decision for them.”

A Planet Coconut spokesman said the company had “fully cooperated” with the investigation.

The company believed the yogurt was made in a “dairy-free production environment,” it added.

“Our thoughts remain as always with Mrs. Marsh’s family,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Marsh’s death followed that of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who died in 2016 after eating a Pret baguette containing sesame seeds bought at Heathrow airport.

Mrs. Ednan-Laperouse had a sesame allergy.

The tragedy prompted a revision of food labeling laws that now requires retailers to display full ingredient and allergen labeling on every food made on the premises and prepackaged for direct sale, including sandwiches, pastries and salads.

Natasha’s mother, Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, co-founder of The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, which has been supporting the Marsh family, said: “The great tragedy of allergy deaths is that they are mostly preventable. Celia’s husband and his five daughters have to live with this terrible truth.

“Lessons must not only be learned, but put into action.”

The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation calls for anaphylaxis to become a “notifiable disease,” meaning that all incidents must be reported to government authorities to monitor it and generate high-quality data.

Ms Ednan-Laperouse said: “This would result in instant recalls of potentially life-saving preventative products, and an accurate picture of the true number of serious incidents and deaths from food anaphylaxis.”

Ms. Marsh’s family is also calling for anaphylaxis to become a notifiable illness.

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