Oct 2nd, 2022
5 mins

The British regulatory system has improved over the years, especially with the enforcement of ‘Natasha’s Law’, which marked it’s one year anniversary last week. However, the inquest into the death of Celia Marsh has determined that she died in 2017 from eating a Pret a Manger vegan flatbread made with coconut yogurt that was contaminated with dairy, which she was highly allergic too,

The coroner overseeing Marsh’s inquest suggested that there is still a long way to go if more allergen related deaths are to be prevented in the future. “Allergy sufferers should not have to gamble with their lives every time they eat outside the house,” says Gareth Gower, Marsh’s brother. “Celia’s death should be a driver for change.”

In the UK alone, 152 people died from food-induced anaphylaxis in the past 20 years, according to BMJ research in 2021. The sad reality is, every single one of those deaths was preventable.

The flatbread that killed Marsh was labelled as Vegan, yet it’s been established that neither Planet Coconut, who make the yogurt for the flatbread, or Pret a Manger, who sold the flatbread, had tested the product to determine if the ‘Vegan’ claim was viable. The coroner, Maria Voisin, asked if there should be a system of obligatory testing for all ingredients in a supply chain when making claims such as dairy free or other free-from claims. Systems do already exist for this type of testing, such as the ‘VITAL’ programme for allergen testing which is widely used in Australia. However, public analyst, Nigel Payne, told the inquest that VITAL was not developed to address the appropriateness of a free-from claim.

With obligatory testing based on sound science, supermarkets and manufacturers could establish good knowledge of the risk attached to their products and allergen sufferers could eat with confidence, knowing that physical testing had been done on that product and therefore they can eat with the security that their health, or even life, should not be danger.

Without the testing, food companies tend to rely more heavily on precautionary allergen labelling, which is set in good faith to highlight the risk of cross-contamination, yet it can leave allergen sufferers, and in Marsh’s case, her family, very frustrated with the vague labelling.

Codex (the organisation that develops global food standards) is expected to publish a review of thresholds in the coming months which the FSA will review in full which it’s director of policy, Rebecca Sudworth, confirmed, so improvements may be coming!


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