‘Nobody else should suffer such a needless death’

RIP: A Pret spokesperson said the company was “deeply sorry for Natasha’s death”.

Should we boycott Pret? Fifteen-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died of an allergic reaction after eating a Pret baguette. Some say the store is to blame, and now her parents want justice.

“Daddy, help me, I can’t breathe.”

Those were the last desperate words of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died two years ago from an extreme allergic reaction after eating a Pret a Manger sandwich. In recent days, an inquest has revealed more about her tragic death.

In July 2016, she bought an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from a Pret store in Heathrow Airport and boarded a flight for Nice with her father. Fatefully, the sandwich contained sesame — which Natasha was seriously allergic to — however, the ingredient was not labelled on the packaging.

After the plane took off, symptoms hit her “like an explosion,” her father said: “her whole body was covered in huge raised red welts — rather like as if she had been stung by hundreds of jellyfish.” He injected her with shots from two EpiPens but it was no use.

“We now know she didn’t die on our watch,” Natasha’s mother said. “She died on Pret’s watch, and all thanks to the absence of two little words on the packaging of her sandwich. If the label had listed sesame seeds Natasha wouldn’t have touched it and she’d still be alive.”

This view was backed up by the coroner last week, who criticised Pret’s food labelling as “inadequate”.

Under the current law, restaurants and takeaways must inform customers if dishes contain one of 14 dangerous allergens. However, freshly made products do not have to be individually labelled. Now Natasha’s family want this legal loophole closed.

“It’s not difficult to label products with allergens,” her mother said. “Nobody else should ever have to suffer such a needless death.”

For many people, allergies present a daily danger. In the UK, 4,500 people are admitted to hospital for allergic reactions to food every year — of those, 10 people die. As many as 8% of children suffer from some form of food allergy.

Pret was even warned nine times about the presence of sesame in its baguettes after several other people suffered non-fatal allergic reactions.

Until this issue is resolved, should Pret be boycotted?

Killer filler

Absolutely, some argue. The most direct way to influence a company is to hit its bank balance — Pret will have to change its ways if it start losing business. Furthermore, food labelling really is an issue of life and death. If ordinary people do nothing and another innocent person dies, we will all be responsible.

Not so fast, others respond. Natasha’s death was a freak accident. Pret did not break any laws, and boycotting its shops will not bring justice or lasting change. The problem here is bad legislation. Tightening up the regulations around food packaging, and educating people on the dangers of allergies will be much more effective in the long run.

You Decide

  1. Should we boycott Pret?
  2. Who is ultimately responsible for Natasha’s death?

Activities

  1. In one minute, write down all the different allergens that you know of — they can be food or other things. Share your list with the class. Which of these allergens are easy to avoid, and which are hard to avoid? Can you think of any ways the world can be made safer for people who are allergic to these things?
  2. Research the history of boycotts as a form of protest. Write a list of famous boycotts and what they achieved. What made these protests successful? Is boycotting an effective protest? Why/why not?

Some People Say...

“As a parent I would die a thousand times, crucified, for her to live.”

Natasha’s father, Nadim

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In response to Natasha’s death. Pret a Manger’s chief executive, Clive Schlee, said: “We cannot begin to comprehend the pain the family have felt, and the grief they will continue to feel… We’ve listened to everything the coroner and Natasha’s family have said this week and we will learn from it.”
What do we not know?
If Pret will face any consequences for its role in Natasha’s death. Her mother, Tanya, said “they will have a big fight on their hands” if the company does not change its labelling policy. If a lawsuit were to be brought against Pret, it is uncertain what the consequences would be. Technically, its labelling policy was within the law.

Word Watch

Allergic reaction
After consuming the sesame, Natasha suffered anaphylactic shock before dying of cardiac arrest when the plane landed.
Tapenade
A savoury paste made from black olives, capers and anchovies.
EpiPens
The first line of treatment for severe allergic reactions. The shots contain adrenaline and are injected directly into the muscle of a patient.
14 dangerous allergens
According to EU guidelines, the 14 major food allergens are cereals containing gluten, crustaceans, eggs, fish, peanuts, soya, milk, nuts, celery, mustard, sesame, sulphites, lupin and molluscs.
Allergens
A substance that causes an allergic reaction. It is not just food that people can be allergic to. Leather, dust and sunlight can all be allergens.
4,500
Figures according to the Food Standards Agency.
Other people
Law student Amelia Zekavica also suffered an allergic reaction to sesame in a Pret sandwich. “The food industry should understand that there are people out there who have allergies. People can die,” she said.