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    Pret a Manger's Inadequate Ingredient Labelling Led to Teenager's Death

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    A coroner is to write to the UK government demanding ministers change food labelling regulations to prevent a repeat of the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a 15-year-old Londoner who died on a British Airways flight in July 2016 after eating an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette purchased in Pret a Manger in Heathrow airport.

    Ruling Natasha died as a result of a "catastrophic anaphlyactic reaction from which she could not be saved", Dr Sean Cummings, acting senior coroner for west London, noted the baguette didn't have any allergen advice on its wrapper, as reduced labelling requirements for food produced on site meant it was sufficient to merely provide general allergen warnings, instructing customers to consult staff for advice.

    Bridget Saunders, from Hillingdon council trading and food standards, told the inquest the distinction made between food produced on and off-site was "to deal with small independent premises that perhaps prepare food on site and put it into a bag for customers coming in." Responding, Cummings said it seemed "strange" a local sandwich shop could benefit from the regulation — "but that an organization that sold 218 million items [every year] could also benefit from that regulation…a cynic might think it was a device to get round regulation relating to information on food allergens."

    Natasha suffered from a number of allergies, including dairy, eggs, nuts and seeds, as well as asthma. Her father described how she began foaming at the mouth, imploring him, "daddy, help me, I can't breathe," before collapsing on the flight. Later, as she lay in hospital in Nice, France, and he was told she would not survive, Nadim Ednan-Laperouse said he had raised the phone to her ear so her mother and brother could say goodbye.

    Cummings further criticized Pret a Manger — which has over 500 outlets in nine countries — for not taking allergen monitoring more seriously, after it emerged the international sandwich giant refused to overtly list sesame seeds as an ingredient on its ‘artisan' baguettes despite nine incidents of allergic reactions in customers over the year before Natasha died. Four individuals ended up in hospital, another in a medical center — one, a 17-year-old girl, had a "life-threatening" reaction to unlisted sesame seeds, and another almost died due to an adverse reaction to an ‘artisan' baguette.

    Advertising Substandard

    It's not the first time in 2018 Pret a Manger has found itself in hot water. In April, the British Advertising Standards Authority censured the chain for claiming its sandwiches use natural ingredients.

    The ASA said ads on Pret's Facebook page and website, which suggested the company made "proper sandwiches avoiding obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives" used by other sandwich chains, and spoke of good, natural food" were misleading.

    "Natural means the product is comprised of natural ingredients, e.g. ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man. It is misleading to use the term to describe foods or ingredients that employ chemicals to change their composition or comprise the products of new technologies, including additives and flavourings that are the product of the chemical industry or extracted by chemical processes. Because some of Pret A Manger's foods contained E-numbers, artificial additives produced by chemical processes, notwithstanding whether the additives were obscure, those foods did not constitute "natural" foods for," the watchdog ruled.

    You Must Smile

    Pret a Manger has also stoked controversy due to its ‘affective labor' policies — employees are compelled to go above and beyond typical requirements for service industry workers — such as courtesy, efficiency, and reliability — and have ‘presence', demonstrating a quirky sense of humour, exhibiting a ‘fun' personality and behaviour consistent with being happy. The firm uses mystery shoppers to ensure employees adhere to these demands — those who fall short of these requirements face penalties, such as cessation of bonuses, official warnings and even sackingA list of officially sanctioned ‘Pret Behaviors' was posted on the company's website in 2011, but removed after public criticism — although in a March 2012 interview, chief executive Clive Schlee outlined the expectations he had of staff.

    'Pret Behaviors' posted on Pret a Manager's website 2011
    'Pret Behaviors' posted on Pret a Manager's website 2011

    "The first thing I look at [when visiting a Pret outlet] is whether staff are touching each other — are they smiling, reacting to each other, happy, engaged? Look, she's just touched her colleague — squeezed her arm. If I see hands going up in the air, that's a good sign. I can almost predict sales on body language alone," he said.

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    Tags:
    allergies, fast-food restaurant, allergy, fast food, Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), United Kingdom, France
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