Huge media coverage was given to the inquest into the death of Natasha Ednan Laperouse as a result of eating sesame seeds in an unlabelled Pret baguette. Yet the inquest into the death of Megan Lee in 2017 from eating a takeaway Indian which contained peanuts appears to have attracted relatively little attention. But, for the allergy community, Megan’s death raises equally important, if different, issues from Natasha’s.
Natasha died because the Pret baguette that she ate included sesame seeds, to which she knew she had a potentially anaphylactic allergy. Since the baguette did not carry ingredients labelling (thanks to the loophole in the regulations which meant that the baguette was not required to) there is no way that she could have known that it contained sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are an unlikely ingredient in a baguette. On top of a bread product – yes – but inside a baguette? Not really.
There are those who might question the wisdom of eating any prepackaged food product without knowing exactly what it contains if you have a life threatening allergy but it certainly seems that in Natasha’s case it was essentially Pret who were at fault.
Megan’s case was very different.
In Megan’s case, The Royal Spice takeaway which sent her a meal ‘littered’ with peanut protein was most definitely to blame. As Judge Mrs Justice Yip said at the inquest said ‘The Royal Spice had no systems or processes to manage allergen control. The menu contained no information about allergens. No record was kept of the ingredients used in dishes.’ They also had a poor hygiene record and failed discharge several of their statutory duties to their employers. So guilty on all counts.
When they ordered the takeaway, Megan’s friend had posted ”prawns and nuts’ in a comments section of the JustEat website near to a separate area about allergies’.
Mrs Justice Yip told jurors: ‘It is a matter of interpretation, and so a matter for you, whether that was enough to put the business on notice of Megan’s allergy to nuts.’ Although it does not in anyway exempt the Royal Spice from guilt, was merely putting ‘prawn and peanuts’ in a comments section enough warning to any eaterie that that customer had a (potentially fatal) allergy to prawns and peanuts?
Reading through the reports from our judges for the FreeFrom Eating Out Awards, virtually all of whom either have, or have children who have, serious allergies – the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. They would make it very clear when ordering that they had an allergy and, unless they knew the eatery well, would want verbal reassurance that their instructions and been understood and would be followed.
No to takeaways
And…. None of them would dream of ordering from a takeaway unless they knew it very, very well. Takeways are notorious (the Royal Spice was not unusual) for having poor hygiene, bad employment practices and no idea at all about allergens.
And no to Indian food
One for the glories of Indian food is the many layers of spicing, the long, slow cooked sauces, the complex bread products. All ideal sites for contamination and perfect dishes in which allergens can hide and be all but undetectable. So once again, unless they knew the Indian restaurant extremely well and had absolute confidence in its allergen protocols, no seriously allergic person would eat in an Indian restaurant, let alone order from an Indian takeaway.
All of which would suggest that although the Royal Spice was very much at fault in this case, Megan had not been handling her allergy very responsibly – but…..
How serious is your allergy?
If you read on in the Mirror‘s report of the inquest, Megan’s mother said:
‘Neither of us (her parents) were aware that Megan’s allergies could have lead to her death and we always believed, from what we were told, that she had mild allergies…..
She has not had many reactions to food but had previously eaten a prawn cracker and had a reaction although she was not taken to the hospital…..
We have always been very careful with food and taken care to see what ingredients are in the food we are eating….
As a family if we ever ordered takeaway food it would always be the same place. As a rule, Megan would never have any sauce from a takeaway…..
She has previously eaten all of the items ordered, except for the peshwari naan, and has never suffered an allergic reaction. I don’t believe Megan would know what a peshwari naan is…..’
So Megan was not being irresponsible as far as her allergy was concerned – she just didn’t know that the ‘mild’ allergy that she knew she had could, with no warning at all, turn into a life threatening allergy, or even in her case, a fatal one. Only in ordering from a takeaway that she didn’t know could she be seen as behaving even remotely irresponsibly. But if she had eaten all of those dishes before without incident, and if she did not think that she had a serious allergy, then that really should not have been an issue.
The moral of which has to be that no allergic reaction, however apparently mild, can be taken lightly. There is always the possibility that it will develop without warning, into a serious allergy. So however insignificant the reaction may appear to have been, the sufferer needs to be aware of the risks, to carry the appropriate medication and to know how to use it. And, if they are female, they need to be sure that the adrenaline autoinjector that they are given has a long enough needle. (See my previous blog on this subject.)