A woman collapsed in the street unable to breathe after eating a “vegan” Pret a Manger (sandwich shop) flatbread that actually contained traces of dairy.
Celia Marsh, 42, a dental nurse, died after eating a ‘super-veg rainbow flatbread’ at a branch of the sandwich chain in Somerset, UK.
The wrap contained yogurt that was supposed to be vegan, but was found to include traces of dairy protein.
The mother of five suffered from a severe dairy allergy and Avon Coroner’s Court heard she “religiously avoided” all dairy products after a near-fatal allergic reaction months earlier.
Celia had been post-Christmas shopping with her three daughters and husband, Andy Marsh, when she went into the sandwich shop to buy something to eat.
In a statement read out in court, Andy Marsh said his wife had begun to feel “a bit funny” after eating the wrap, while they were in clothing store Gap, and they decided to leave the shop.
He said: “We started walking down the narrow side street by the Gap store and Celia had her asthma inhaler out.
“She used it a couple of times and I asked her if she was OK. She said she was struggling to breathe but it may be because of the cold air.”
“We then moved to a small side street on the left and I pulled her to one side.”
He said Celia had initially thought she was “being silly” because the sandwich had been labelled vegan.
“She had her Epipen in her hand and I said to her that if she thought there was any chance she was having a reaction that she should just do it and use the pen as it doesn’t matter,” he added.
“She then said to me ‘You need to phone an ambulance’.”
Andy said he phoned 999, by which time his wife had collapsed and was being tended to by an off-duty GP who had offered to help.
“They took Celia away in an ambulance but I had my children with me, so could not go in the ambulance with her to the hospital,” Andy said.
“I was really in shock so it took a short time before I was able to drive up to the hospital in my car. When we arrived at the hospital we were taken into a side room and we were told that Celia had been pronounced dead at 4pm.”
Brendan Turvey, a civil servant with first aid training who went to help Celia, described the “disturbing” scene as a crowd formed and Andy attempted to comfort his young daughter.
However, Shawn Eyles, one of the paramedics who attended, said in his statement that some shoppers had continued to step over Celia as she was being treated.
Andy Marsh and his daughters could be seen weeping during the hearing as the statements were read out.
An allergy specialist from Southmead Hospital, Dr. Nikolas Tsiougkos, also gave evidence about the seriousness of Celia Marsh’s condition.
The hearing took place at Ashton Court Mansion House in Bristol. Pret a Manger was charged with food safety failures, but the prosecution was later dropped due to lack of evidence.
The tragedy sparked an overhaul of food labelling laws, which now require retailers to display full ingredient and allergen labelling on every food item made on the premises and pre-packed for direct sale, including sandwiches, cakes and salads.