Pret A Manger has been found not guilty of a food safety offence after a student suffered a severe allergic reaction to a sandwich containing sesame.
Isobel Colnaghi checked the packaging on a curried chickpea and mango chutney item at the firm’s shop in Bath’s SouthGate shopping centre in November 2017.
She is allergic to sesame and asked a member of staff if it was present in the sandwich.
The employee – Roberto Rodriguez – failed to check the store’s allergen guide, which would have confirmed the sandwich did contain sesame, Bristol Crown Court heard.
Instead, Mr Rodriguez allegedly checked a label on the fridge and told Ms Colnaghi – incorrectly – that sesame was absent.
After only a few bites of the sandwich, Miss Colnaghi began to feel unwell and was taken by ambulance to the Royal United Hospital suffering with anaphylactic shock. She later made a full recovery.
Kate Brunner QC, prosecuting, alleged Pret A Manger’s “policies, documents and training were all over the place”.
She claimed the company had to prove it took “all reasonable steps” to ensure staff consulted the allergen guide before advising customers.
The barrister representing Pret A Manger, Jonathan Laidlaw, said instructions given to staff about allergen queries were “straightforward and consistent”.
Mr Rodriguez looking at the shelf rather than the allergen guide “amounted to an error by the server”, he added.
Mr Laidlaw also said Pret A Manger’s allergen policies in 2017 – which had been approved by a local authority – went further than regulatory requirements at the time.
The court heard Mr Rodriguez no longer worked for Pret A Manger, had left the UK, and solicitors had been unable to contact him since 2019.
Ms Brunner told jurors that in an account he gave to the company, Mr Rodriguez appeared to believe he was following the company’s procedures during the incident.
But food safety expert Dr Belinda Stuart-Moonlight told jurors Mr 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.
She also referred to the company’s training as “gold standard” and said it made allergen information “easily accessible” to customers and staff.
Pret A Manger (Europe) Ltd 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 following a trial lasting a week.
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.”