Yoghurt boss cries at inquest of woman who ate her product and died

Yoghurt manufacturer bursts into tears at inquest of mother-of-five, 42, who died after eating her supposedly dairy-free product in Pret a Manger wrap

  • Celia Marsh, 42, died after an allergic reaction to a wrap from Pret in 2017 
  • The mother-of-five ordered a supposedly vegan rainbow wrap 
  • The yogurt in the wrap, supplied by Planet Coconut, was meant to be dairy-free
  • Boss Bethany Eaton admitted not carrying out any testing of the raw product

The manufacturer of a supposedly dairy-free yoghurt used in a Pret a Manger vegan wrap broke down in tears at the inquest into the death of a mother-of-five who died after eating her product. 

Bethany Eaton, the managing director of Planet Coconut, gave evidence at the inquest in Bristol of mother-of-five Celia Marsh.

Mrs Marsh, 42, suffered a fatal allergic reaction on December 27 2017, shortly after eating a super-veg rainbow flatbread.

The dental nurse, from Melksham, Wiltshire had a severe dairy allergy and collapsed in the street after eating the sandwich bought from the chain’s store in Bath, Somerset.

She had been on a post-Christmas shopping trip with her husband and three of her daughters at the time.

Avon Coroner’s Court has heard the yoghurt was produced by Planet Coconut, which is the UK manufacturer and distributor of products developed by Australia-based yoghurt company CoYo.

Mrs Eaton told the hearing she had set up Planet Coconut with her husband in 2011 to manufacture dairy-free products and purchased a licence from CoYo founder Henry Gosling for exclusive UK rights.

The inquest heard she admitted not carrying out any testing of the raw product, which was made in a UK Tate and Lyle factory, despite the packaging arriving with a warning it may have been exposed to allergens.

Ms Eaton told the inquest she ‘rightly or wrongly’ relied on assurances from others, specifically Mr Gosling, that her product was dairy free and produced in a dairy free environment.

Bethany Eaton told the hearing that she did not test her company Planet Coconut’s supposed ‘dairy-free’ product

Mother-of-five Celia Marsh, 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 earlier this month. Members of the family wept as written statements were read to the court

She acknowledged she didn’t test the ‘raw product’ of starch, known as HG1 she acquired as part of the licence from COYO and said her only regret was ‘trusting others.’

Giving evidence today at the inquest in Bristol, she said: ‘I did not for one minute think it contained dairy.

‘We never tested the product as I was assured and believed it was made in an allergen free environment. A dairy free yoghurt made in what I believe was a separate facility, area, or line that was entirely allergen free.

‘That is what we relied upon.

‘I had never been in the food industry. We did everything we believed we needed to do.

‘I felt assured from Henry that it was dairy free and being made in a dairy free environment.’

The court has heard the Planet Coconut 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.

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

Mrs Eaton said: ‘Dairy-free is something I am passionate about which is why we bought the CoYo licence.

‘I didn’t ever dream it would contain dairy after he (Henry Gosling) sold me a licence.

‘He said it was made in an allergen-free environment. He had a very good relationship with Tate & Lyle

‘That was the reassurance he gave me and I respected that.’

Maria Voisin, the senior coroner for Avon, asked Mrs Eaton whether she considered testing the starch.

She replied: ‘We never tested the product because I was assured and believed it was being made in an allergen-free environment.

‘I was told there was a separate line or facility that was entirely allergen-free and that’s what we relied upon.’

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

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

The witness said that since Mrs Marsh’s death all products are now tested, irrespective of the source.

Mrs Eaton began crying under questioning from barrister Jeremy Hyam KC, representing Mrs Marsh’s family.

‘I had a dairy-free facility and I had ingredients that I believed were dairy-free from the assurances I was given,’ she said.

‘I did not believe our product contained dairy. He sold me a licence for a dairy-free yogurt and I had to buy the product from him.

‘He was very protective of his product and rightly or wrongly I respected that. I did not believe that Henry and Tate & Lyle would produce a product that contained dairy in it.

‘We all believed there was no risk because it was made in an allergy-free environment.’

Fighting back tears, she added: ‘I am a bit angry and upset about this.

‘I didn’t just rely on his word, I relied on the fact that I had been sold a licence for a dairy-free product and it has been manufactured by Tate & Lyle with CoYo and created a very popular dairy-free yogurt product in Australia.

‘I regret buying a licence and trusting the word of someone else and that’s what I regret.

‘I regret that the inquiries I made were not with Henry Gosling and I relied upon his assurances and that’s my regret.’

The inquest also heard from Guy Meakin, interim managing director of Pret a Manger, who expressed his ‘extreme sorrow’ to the family of Mrs Marsh for their loss.

‘If we had known it had contained milk products we would never have used it,’ he said.

He said all products were now labelled with ingredients and Pret had introduced allergen risk assessments.

Mrs Marsh’s death came in the wake of that of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died in 2016 after eating a Pret baguette containing sesame seeds.

Ms Ednan-Laperouse had a sesame allergy.

The tragedy sparked an overhaul of food labelling laws. Retailers are now required 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.

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