On July 17, 2016, after boarding a British Airways flight from London to Nice with her father and a school friend, 15 year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse ate the sandwich she had purchased at Pret A Manger shop at Heathrow. The label on the sandwich made no reference to sesame, to which Natasha was allergic.
Minutes later, she felt ill. She complained of an itchy throat and broke out in hives on her neck and midriff, and her breathing became labored. Her father administered two epinephrine auto-injectors, and she was shortly placed on the floor of the aircraft where a junior doctor again administered epinephrine.
Natasha suffered cardiac arrest and fell unconscious. She was met at the airport by French paramedics and taken to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead.
“Everything we say and do is a reminder that she isn’t with us – her empty bedroom, school uniform hanging in her wardrobe … her holiday bag packed for her holiday in Nice has never been unpacked. We can’t bear to,” said her father, Nadim Ednan-Laperouse.
Natasha was always careful to check the food she bought for sesame. Given that sesame did not appear in the ingredient list and there were no seeds visible through the packaging, she assumed the sandwich was safe to eat. She had no way of knowing that sesame was baked into the crust.
Some questions to be answered at the inquest held at West London Coroner’s Court:
- Why were Pret products not individually labeled with full ingredient lists and allergen information? (Individual products served by sandwich shops and cafe chains are not required to do so under local regulations to spare the proprietors from complying with “onerous” regulations, though there are signs placed at the shop indicating that allergic consumers should check with management.)
- Did the British Airways staff take the appropriate lifesaving measures during the flight?
- Should the aircraft have been diverted to a closer airport?
- Did the defibrillator used by French paramedics fail and did the failure have an impact on the outcome?
Our hearts go out to the Ednan-Laperouse family and we wish them much strength and solace during this time when they are forced to relive the tragedy of Natasha’s passing. Our hope is that the inquest results in substantive changes to regulations and procedures that make a simple act of buying a sandwich safer for the millions who suffer with food allergies.
As we always do when reporting incidents like this one, we look for learning opportunities to help prevent similar tragedies from occuring in the future.
In this case, sesame was undisclosed on the label, an inexcusable oversight but one that was permitted under lax local labeling laws.
We advise that especially when traveling, start with the assumption that a food product you are considering contains or has been contaminated with your allergen of concern via cross-contact, then work backward.
First, check the label to make sure it corresponds to the product itself and hasn’t been misapplied. Then, check with management to determine how the product was made and handled at that particular shop. Is it possible that some ingredients are not labeled for? Is the allergen used in the kitchen where the product is prepared? What are the procedures in place to ensure that allergens are not introduced via cross-contact? Was the bread prepared elsewhere or in the same kitchen?
If you don’t receive satisfactory answers, do not purchase the product. Your life or that of your loved one simply isn’t worth the risk.
Let’s honor Natasha by redoubling our efforts to be safe and let’s be vocal advocates to ensure that the tragedy of her loss is not repeated.