Family of mother-of-five with severe dairy allergy who died after eating Pret a Manger vegan wrap say she was ‘religious’ about what was safe to eat – and demand ‘vigorous testing’ across entire supply chain following tragedy

  • Celia Marsh’s daughter said she would ‘religiously check’ food labels
  • Ashleigh Grice told GMB that her mother’s vigilance was a ‘big part of our lives’
  • Mum-of-five suffered a fatal allergic reaction to dairy on December 27, 2017
  • She died after eating vegan flatbread at Pret a Manger contaminated with dairy

The family of a woman with a severe dairy allergy who died after eating a Pret a Manger vegan wrap containing traces of milk say she was ‘religious’ about checking what was safe to eat.

Mother-of-five Celia Marsh, 42, suffered a fatal allergic reaction on December 27, 2017, shortly after eating a £3.75 super-veg rainbow flatbread bought from the chain’s store in Bath, Somerset.

Mrs Marsh, a dental nurse from Melksham, Wiltshire, had a severe dairy allergy and collapsed in the street after eating the sandwich while on a post-Christmas shopping trip with her husband and three of her daughters.

Ashleigh and Shanaye Grice (pictured left and centre) spoke about how their mother would religiously check food labels as they appeared on Good Morning Britain alongside Michelle Victor (right), the lawyer who represented Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who also died following an allergic reaction to a Pret sandwich in 2016

Celia Marsh, 42, died after having an allergic reaction to a Pret a Manger super-veg rainbow flatbread on December 27, 2017

Two of her daughters, Ashleigh and Shanaye Grice, appeared on Good Morning Britain today to speak about the tragic events surrounding their mother’s death.

Speaking to Susanna Reid and Ed Balls, the pair told how their mother ‘religiously’ checking’ what was safe to eat was a ‘big part’ of their lives as a family because she feared having a severe reaction.

Ashleigh said: ‘It was a massive part of our lives and she was so strict and religiously checking everything because obviously it was so terrifying that this could ever happen.

‘So as a family it was a big part of our lives, our home lives, it was just all the time, everything for us as a family.

‘It was just so religious for her to make sure, double check, triple check.’

Two of Celia Marsh’s daughters, Ashleigh and Shanaye Grice, spoke about the events surrounding their mother’s death with Susanna Reid and Ed Balls on Good Morning Britain

Ashleigh continued: ‘Like she did that day when she purchased that wrap from Pret.

‘She would have triple checked and possibly even asked herself because she was very religious about that.

‘The wrap itself had a list of ingredients on it and everything on there she knew she could have and then at the bottom, it did say dairy free Planet Coconut yoghurt alternative, so she knew or she thought that it was safe to eat that.’

Two of Mrs Marsh’s daughters appeared on Good Morning Britain to talk about their mother’s death amid calls for stricter rules around food labelling and more ‘vigorous testing’ across the entire supply chain

Her daughter Shanaye told the presenters that Mrs Marsh had suffered an allergic reaction months prior to her death after eating a marshmallow cereal bar at work.

She said that her mother required 15 adrenalin shots after having a severe allergic reaction to the bar – which said on the label that it may contain traces of dairy – but she thought it was okay because she had eaten it before without issue.

This prompted Susanna Reid to assert that it is ‘like a Russian roulette’ for allergy sufferers when they go out to eat.

Mrs Marsh’s family are now calling for stricter rules around food labelling and more ‘vigorous testing’ across the entire supply chain to prevent other tragic deaths.

Ashleigh added: ‘There are quite a few things that we want to change.

‘The main number one is testing, so we believe that there needs to be vigorous testing throughout the whole supply chain from one company to another.’

Lawyer Michelle Victor said it was ‘absolutely imperative’ that better labelling was introduced across the ‘whole supply chain’

Lawyer Michelle Victor, who represented the family Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died following an allergic reaction to a Pret sandwich in 2016, said: ‘It is absolutely imperative that there is full transparency throughout the whole supply chain and that if there is anything even including a risk of contamination, that information is passed on down the food chain.

‘What we do know is that Planet Coconut had information in its possession to indicate that the HG One and the yoghurt ultimately made was contaminated with milk.

‘And had that information been passed on to Pret a Manager, they say that they would never have used that yoghurt and Celia may be here today.’

Earlier this month, an inquest investigating the mother-of-five’s death heard that Pret a Manger was not conducting its own checks on manufacturers supplying dairy-free products for its vegan ranges.

The wrap had contained yoghurt which was supposed to be vegan but was later found to contain traces of dairy protein, Avon Coroner’s Court heard. 

The yoghurt was produced by Planet Coconut, which is the UK manufacturer and distributor of products developed by Australia-based yoghurt company CoYo.

Kirsty Langford, a trading standards officer for Bath and North East Somerset Council, told the inquest Pret a Manger had not apparently conducted its own audit of the claims made by Planet Coconut.

Celia Marsh, 42, suffered a fatal anaphylactic reaction after eating a ‘super-veg rainbow flatbread’ at a Pret store

The dental nurse, from Melksham, Wiltshire, suffered from a severe dairy allergy and later died in hospital from the reaction

Mrs Marsh’s family, including husband Andy, pictured arriving for her inquest yesterday. Members of the family wept as written statements were read to the court

‘When a dairy-free claim is made on a product you expect some sort of testing to be taking place,’ she said.

‘That may not itself be the responsibility of Pret A Manger but it would probably be Pret’s responsibility to ensure their supplier was undertaking some sort of testing.’

Ms Langford continued: ‘When we went back to Planet Coconut we weren’t supplied with any test certificate and we weren’t sure that Pret had been supplied with any either – we haven’t been supplied with any evidence of that.

‘That becomes more important when there is a dairy-free claim on the product, that is when you would expect finished product testing to make sure that ‘free-from’ claim can be verified.’

Ms Langford said that ordinarily, a free-from claim on a product would be supported by a risk assessment by the retailer checking all the processes and ingredients in the supply chain.

She said that Planet Coconut had said it was testing its product for allergens every year, and added that how often a product should be tested was not enshrined in law.

Mrs Marsh died after eating a ‘super-veg rainbow flatbread’ (pictured) which had been contaminated with milk protein

She had been enjoying a family meal at the Pret A Manger store (pictured) in Bath, Somerset, in December 2017 (Stock image)

Mrs Marsh’s husband Andy Marsh (back, centre) and her family outside the inquest at Avon and Somerset Coroner’s Court in Bristol yesterday

‘There is nothing in law to say how often you should be testing, there is nothing in law to say you should be testing every batch for example,’ Ms Langford said.

‘With a small supplier like Planet Coconut it would be less often than a bigger (company).’

She added: ‘I would expect Pret to check that testing was being undertaken through their supplier – there were supplier audits being undertaken (by Pret) but I don’t think the audit picked up on the testing of the product.’

An investigation into Planet Coconut found the yoghurt contained few ingredients – primarily coconut cream and ‘HG1’ starch supplied by sugar giant Tate & Lyle.

The starch was identified as the possible source of the contamination.

‘Tate & Lyle had never said the HG1 starch was suitable for a dairy-free claim,’ Ms Langford said.

A bag of the starch had the warning: ‘Manufactured in a factory that handles milk, eggs, cereals containing gluten, sulphur dioxide and sulphites.’

Ms Langford said Tate & Lyle had said the information concerning the risk of contamination in its products was passed to Planet Coconut, while Planet Coconut said it was not.

The court heard evidence that the trace of milk in the flatbread was so small, that it would only be expected to have an effect on around 5% of people with the most acute dairy allergy.

Mrs Marsh’s husband Andy said his wife had ‘religiously’ avoided dairy after suffering a near-fatal incident a few months previously in which she needed 15 shots of adrenalin.

The mother-of-five, pictured here with her husband Andy Marsh, was rushed to hospital after the incident in December 2017 but she sadly later died

Mr Marsh (Centre) has previously said his wife had eaten her usual breakfast of overnight oats with soya milk on December 27, 2017

Teenage girl, 15, died of allergic reaction to Pret a Manger baguette just a year earlier

Mrs Marsh’s death came just a year after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, died in similar circumstances when she suffered a reaction to hidden sesames in a Pret baguette in 2016.

She knew she was allergic to milk, eggs, banana, nuts and sesame seeds so along with her dad, Nadim, had checked the label carefully.

But the artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette contained sesame seeds that were baked into the dough and were not visible or listed in the ingredients.

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret baguette

She went into anaphylactic shock within minutes of take off on a British Airways flight to France.

Despite efforts to give her adrenaline shots, she was unable to breathe and suffered a heart attack and later died in a French hospital on July 17, 2016.

Her father Nadim, 56, administered two Epi-pens — which delivered potentially lifesaving adrenaline to his daughter as she struggled to breathe.

But they did not work and she suffered multiple cardiac arrests.

On December 27, Mr Marsh said in a written statement, he believed his wife had eaten her usual breakfast of overnight oats with fruit and soya milk. 

Shortly after 1pm, their daughter Taylor, then aged seven, said that she was hungry and went into a pasty shop to get a sausage roll. 

Mrs Marsh went with her but did not buy any food there because the staff said that the pasties were washed in egg and milk. 

Instead, she purchased a super-veg rainbow flatbread from Pret A Manger on Stall Street, which she believed to be dairy-free. The family then headed towards Gap, with Mrs Marsh eating her sandwich as she walked. 

While they were in the Gap store, Mrs Marsh told her husband she ‘felt a bit funny’, but she often felt like that after she had eaten something new. 

After a quick look upstairs the family left the shop. Because it was cold outside as they headed back down Stall Street, Mrs Marsh took out her inhaler, her husband previously told the court.

Mr Marsh said: ‘I asked if she was okay and she said that she was struggling to breathe.’ 

When her condition did not improve Mrs Marsh took out her EpiPen, which her husband told her to use, and he said that she did so. She then told him to phone an ambulance.

They continued walking for a few metres until Mr Marsh could see a street name to give the call handler. Mrs Marsh collapsed while her husband was on the phone with the emergency services and an off-duty doctor came to help, the inquest heard.

The inquest previously heard from Brendan Turvey, a civil servant with first aid training, who tried to help before Mrs Marsh’s death. 

In a statement, Mr Turvey said he was heading to the theatre with his family and friends when Mrs Marsh collapsed near him.

Mr Turvey said: ‘I heard a little girl scream and saw a lady lying on the ground in the middle of the street. The little girl was very upset and there was a lady talking to the woman on the floor.

‘It was very distressing so I told my family to keep back and then headed over. As I arrived, Celia was losing consciousness and her face was quite blue and swollen. 

‘Her eyes were open but her breathing was laboured. I put my jacket over her and some other folk did that too. A first response ambulance car arrived and then two more paramedics shortly after.’

He added that the first paramedic put an oxygen mask on Mrs Marsh and asked him to fetch the defibrillator from his car. When Mrs Marsh stopped breathing, he and the female doctor took turns administering CPR. 

Then two more paramedics arrived in an ambulance and Mrs Marsh was taken to hospital, accompanied by the off-duty doctor.

Mr Turvey tried to find out afterwards whether Mrs Marsh had survived but it was not until October that year that he saw on the news that she had died. 

Pret was charged with food safety failures in the wake of Mrs Marsh’s death, but the prosecution was later dropped due to lack of evidence.

Mrs Marsh’s death came a year after 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, pictured, died after eating a Pret baguette which had packaging that did not display it had sesame seeds baked into it

All Pret sandwiches are displayed with a warning stating they are made onsite in a busy kitchen, and that the company cannot guarantee they are suitable for people with allergies.

The inquest also heard that food standards officers found no evidence cross contamination had occurred within Pret’s Bath store’s kitchen.

A spokesperson for Pret earlier said: ‘Our deepest sympathies remain with the Marsh family over their terrible loss and we are doing everything we can to support this inquest.

‘Following Celia Marsh’s death in 2017, charges were brought against Pret. The prosecution ended due to the lack of evidence and as a result, Pret was found Not Guilty.

‘Over the past few years, Pret has established an industry-leading approach to helping customers with allergies, through the Pret Allergy Plan. 

‘We will continue to do everything we can to make sure that every customer has the information they need to make the right choice for them.’

The inquest is taking place at Ashton Court Mansion House in Bristol and is expected to last between two and three weeks.

Among the interested parties are Bath and North East Somerset Council, Australian-based coconut yoghurt company CoYo, and its UK manufacturer and distributor, Planet Coconut.

The death came just a year after Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who had a sesame allergy, died in similar circumstances when she suffered a reaction to hidden sesames in a Pret baguette bought at Heathrow Airport which did not display it had them as an ingredient.

Natasha’s tragic death at the age of 15 sparked an overhaul of food labelling laws which now requires food 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.

Her mother, Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, founder of the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, is supporting Mrs Marsh’s family.

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