Pret A Manger, the British sandwich chain that has become a mainstay of office lunches with the promise of freshly prepared food, will be adding information about allergens in its food after the death of a girl who ate a sandwich containing sesame seeds, an ingredient she was allergic to.
In a statement on Wednesday, the company said it would start affixing ingredient labels to its packaging in November.
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a 15-year-old girl with a sesame allergy, had picked up an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2016, thinking that it would be fine to eat because it carried no mention of sesame seeds. But sesame seeds were baked into the dough. During her flight, she collapsed from cardiac arrest and was dead within two hours.
At an inquest last month, a British court determined that the labeling on the sandwich had been inadequate. “There was no specific allergen information on the baguette packaging or on the food display cabinet, and Natasha was reassured by that,” the coroner, Sean Cummings, said.
Pret A Manger had not broken the law, he said, but had not taken allergen monitoring seriously. The company had been warned of allergic reactions to its baguettes six times before, according to the inquest.
Nadim and Tanya Ednan-Laperouse, the girl’s parents, said in a statement that they welcomed the company’s decision and hoped it would quickly lead to better labeling at the chain.
“Pret says it has recognized there is much more it can do, we agree,” the couple said. “We will be inviting them to meet with us to outline how we think they can contribute to genuinely meaningful change.”
Pret started in 1986, promoting its sandwiches and soup to people eating on the go. It now has about 530 shops in cities including New York, Chicago and Hong Kong. In May, the chain was bought by the conglomerate JAB Holdings for nearly $ 2 billion.
The stores have labels on the shelves pointing out that some of the products include allergens and encourage customers to ask staff for more information. Under British law, Pret is not required to label food items individually because they are put together on the premises rather than off-site.
Regulations covering food labeling in the United States vary by location, but Pret said it already uses full ingredient labels in some of its stores there.
Still, the company conceded on Wednesday that there was more that it could do and said that it would start putting allergen warning stickers on individual products and display additional warning signs in its shops.
Pret also said it would put full ingredient information online and in shops over the coming weeks and make sure that complaints regarding allergy-related incidents are dealt with within 24 hours.
“I hope this sets us on course to drive change in the industry and ensure customers with allergies are as protected and informed as possible,” Clive Schlee, the chief executive, said in a statement. “Nothing is more important to Pret right now.”
The British government was also supportive of the move. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement that “following the tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse there is a clear need to review food labeling.”
The shift toward labeling each product’s ingredients would be a complex challenge for the company, but analysts said the company had no alternative.
“It’s been a long time coming, especially for a chain like Pret, which is built entirely around the idea that they’re a more trustworthy, fresh-food chain,” said Morgane Richert, a senior food service analyst at GlobalData. “They want customers to trust them more than a standard quick-service restaurant.”
Consumers are pushing companies like Pret to provide more information about their food at every step along the supply chain, analysts said. Walmart plans to begin using the blockchain to track its food supplies so that it can pinpoint contamination.
“It’s a wake-up call for the food service market,” said Jeffrey Young, the chief executive of Allegra Strategies, a food service consultancy. “A lot of responsibility goes to the individual human being in a food service environment, compared to a factory, and that’s tough,” Mr. Young said, but ultimately it’s a “necessity.”
And other chains are likely to follow suit, Ms. Richert said. “You have tags saying a sandwich is vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free. Why wouldn’t you have a tag that says it contains sesame seeds or peanuts?”
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