Both were caused by mislabeled foods at Pret

By Mike Pomranz
Updated October 09, 2018
Credit: Photo by Nick Ansell/PA Images via Getty Images

Not to say that Pret A Manger ever had it easy. Convincing Americans that two slices of bread with a thin slice of meat in the middle constitutes a restaurant sandwich was always going to be an uphill battle. But right now, things are especially bad for the UK-based chain. Coming on the heels of an investigation into the 2016 death of a teenager who suffered an allergic reaction to an unlisted ingredient, Pret recently announced that another allergen-related death took place in 2017.

Late last month, the 2016 death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse became a major story in the UK because officials looked into whether lax labeling regulations were to blame. Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered from a number of extreme allergies, reportedly went into cardiac arrest aboard a flight to Nice, France, after purchasing an artichoke, olive, and tapenade baguette from a Pret at London’s Heathrow airport that didn’t have sesame seeds on its ingredient list. By law, food produced on-site at British eateries aren’t required to be labeled with complete allergen information. But concerns have been raised that companies like Pret, with over 500 locations, may be taking advantage of a rule intended to reduce the labeling burden at small sandwich shops.

Though any death is tragic, an argument could inevitably be made that Ednan-Laperouse’s death was an isolated incident. However, this week, Pret has admitted that the brand was involved in a second death, also caused by an allergic reaction to an unlisted ingredient, in December 2017.

Celia Marsh passed away less than a year ago at the age of 42 after eating a “super-veg rainbow flatbread” that was said to be dairy-free but was later found to contain dairy protein. In that particular case, Pret blamed the incident on the supplier, COYO, a dairy-free yogurt brand. “We stopped selling all affected products as soon as we were made aware of this incident,” Pret said in a statement. “Testing by Pret and two independent authorities found the COYO’s dairy-free yoghurt did in fact contain traces of dairy protein. We informed the Food Standards Agency which led to a national product recall of COYO from all supermarkets and other shops. Pret ended its relationship with COYO UK and is in the process of taking legal action.”

Admittedly, it’s easy to make Pret the scapegoat, especially Ednan-Laperouse’s death, which is more directly linked to their oversight. However, simply blaming Pret misses the more important takeaway here: Allergy issues can be matters of life or death, and as this newly uncovered incident proves, they can happen anywhere along the supply chain.

As should be expected, Pret has already announced it would start labeling its fresh items beyond what the law requires, but hopefully the larger moral is not lost other businesses as well. The UK has already seen at least one other restaurant brand take notice: The British chain Greggs has announced it’s looking to step up its allergy labeling too.