A jury has found Pret A Manger not guilty of a food safety offence following an incident in which a student suffered a severe allergic reaction after eating a sandwich containing sesame.
Isobel Colnaghi purchased a sandwich from the firm's shop at Bath's SouthGate shopping centre on 26 November 2017. She checked the packaging of the curried chickpea and mango chutney sandwich before asking staff member Roberto Rodriguez whether the item contained sesame, to which she is allergic.
Text on the packaging said: "If you have allergies please ask. All our food is handmade in our busy kitchen so we can't guarantee it is suitable for people with allergies."
Bristol Crown Court heard Rodriguez failed to check the store's allergen guide, which would have confirmed that the sandwich did contain sesame. The court heard that he told her he did not think so, but went to check the label on the fridge where she had taken the sandwich from, then returned and assured her it did not.
After eating a few bites of the sandwich, Colnaghi felt her throat become scratchy. She took antihistamines and administered her EpiPen after calling 999 when her symptoms worsened.
The student later went into anaphylactic shock and became unconscious. She made a full recovery after being taken to the Royal United Hospital in Bath.
Kate Brunner QC, prosecuting, said Rodriguez should have checked the store's allergen guide, which clearly stated that the sandwich contained sesame.
She told jurors that Pret A Manger's policies, training and documents were "all over the place" and Rodriguez believed he was following the company's procedures when he went to the fridge.
She said Pret had to prove it took "all reasonable steps" to ensure staff consulted the allergen guide before advising customers.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, representing Pret A Manger during the trial, said instructions to staff on what to do when an allergen query was raised were "straightforward and consistent".
He said Rodriguez looking at the shelf label rather than the allergen guide "amounted to an error by the server" that even the best training could not prevent.
During the trial, food safety expert Dr Belinda Stuart-Moonlight told jurors that Rodriguez was fully trained and had acted outside of Pret A Manger's allergen procedures.
"Other than the failure of the staff member to refer to the allergen guide, the system was sound and compliant," she said.
Dr Stuart-Moonlight said Pret's allergy management system complied with industry standards and included "all reasonable precautions" to prevent such an incident from happening.
She referred to the company's training as "gold standard" and said it made allergen information "easily accessible" to customers and staff.
Following the incident, Rodriguez stopped working for Pret and left the UK. Solicitors have not been able to contact him since 2019.
Pret A Manger (Europe) denied one charge of selling food not of the substance demanded, contrary to Section 14 of the Food Safety Act 1990. A jury acquitted the company of the charge on Tuesday afternoon following a week-long trial.
Speaking after the verdict, a spokeswoman for Pret A Manger said: "We welcome the court's decision in relation to this incident in 2017.
"At Pret we continue to do everything we can to support customers with allergies and in 2019, we became the first food-to-go business to introduce full ingredient labels on all freshly made products.
"We remain 100% committed to the actions we set out in the Pret Allergy Plan, so that every customer has the information they need to make the right choice for them. We wish Ms Colnaghi all the best for the future."
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