An inquest convened in Bournemouth, Dorset heard testimony into the death of 24-year-old Georgina Mansergh, who passed on February 11 after dinner at a pub.
The master’s student had been diagnosed with a tree nut allergy at two years old, but her family said although she would sometimes be sick or have tingly lips if she ate nuts, she never suffered a “serious” reaction. She was never prescribed an epinephrine auto-injector and would resort to taking an antihistamine when symptoms presented themselves.
The family was planning a big dinner at the Angel Inn in Ferndown, Dorset, when her mom read out menu choices from her computer.
Her mom picks up the story:
Georgie was on the WhatsApp chat but she was slow with giving her choice. She was in the kitchen and I was at the computer. She said tell me what the options are. I said the vegan options are falafel and mushroom risotto and she said risotto. The mushroom risotto was at the bottom of the page so the actual ingredients were not visible. That’s the horrible thing is if it had been in the middle of the screen I would have seen it.
Her father added:
My wife sent a copy of the menu to the family WhatsApp to preorder. Georgie and she discussed menu options and she chose the mushroom risotto and plant burger. We hadn’t noticed the allergen listed in the ingredients and don’t know if Georgie had looked at the menu. She had eaten there previously with no issue.
Georgie had only just started to eat the risotto when she said she was having a reaction. My wife swapped starters with Georgie to make her feel more comfortable. But she knew the reaction would spoil the meal if Georgie didn’t take some Piriton [an antihistamine] so went home to get it, she was back within ten minutes or so. I was already outside the pub with Georgie, she told me she had been sick. She was unable to take the Piriton without water so I went back in the pub to get some. Georgie got out of the car, stood on the edge trying to take a deep breath then stepped down. I told her to maybe get in the back seat and lie down and that’s when she just collapsed onto me. I cannot begin to describe how devastated we are and our sons are at the loss of our beautiful girl and it is difficult to comprehend that she has gone.
He described his daughter’s food allergy as “quite low key” and would even eat food products that were labeled “may contain nuts.”
He went on to say:
The severe and adverse reaction was nothing like she had ever experienced before. She had learned to live with her allergies and was very aware of what she could and couldn’t eat, which makes this even more tragic. While we don’t hold the restaurant responsible at all, there are a number of factors we would like to raise that might be considered for wider restaurant guidance in the future.
We have prepared this dish at home a number of times, any recipe we have followed did not include tahini. Would everyone reading the menu know that tahini contains an allergen? Talking to many people they don’t know what tahini is and I did not.
The inquest is ongoing.
Our sincere condolences go out to the Mansergh family for the tragic loss of their daughter. The circumstances surrounding her passing are every food allergy family’s worst nightmare, and we hope they are able to find some measure of solace.
As we always do when reporting such tragedies, we look for strategies others in the allergic community can employ to avoid similar occurrences.
There’s a lot to unpack here, beginning with the entree, which contained tahini. Tahini is made from sesame paste, and although it is a Top 9 allergen in its own right, an allergy to tree nuts does not imply an allergy to sesame. We presume Georgina either developed an allergy to sesame or was triggered by another ingredient in the meal.
It should be understood that the severity of one reaction does not predict the severity of the next. What might prove to be a mild reaction one day, say hives or an itchy mouth, could present as full-blown anaphylaxis — a severe life-threatening reaction — the next time.
If you have been diagnosed with a food allergy, you should be prescribed epinephrine and carry two epinephrine auto-injectors with you everywhere you go. Should you suspect anaphylaxis, administer the first and call emergency services. (See our article “How to Determine Whether it’s Anaphylaxis” if you need a refresher on decoding the symptoms.)
Last but not least, when dining out, always discuss your allergies with management to determine whether you can be safely accommodated. Menus don’t tell the whole story; even if a dish does not contain your allergen, you need to understand how the food is prepared to determine whether there is a risk of cross-contact. If you have any doubt you can be safely accommodated, do not partake in food there.