Salad is the leafy, guilt-free lunchtime choice which usually leaves its proponents feeling sensible and rejuvenated. It’s a safe option. And rarely would you ever need to consider whether the "chicken and avocado with autumn leaves" you’re scrutinising might kill you.
However, when Adam Baker nearly died after eating salad, he didn’t even have any known allergies. “I had a severe allergy and we suspected he might too,” his sister Vicky wrote for BBC. “This accidental consumption was the first proof. His body had gone into anaphylactic shock - a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to an allergen.”
With 10-year-old Adam admitted to hospital and now in critical condition, his parents’ suspicion that he might also have a nut allergy had been confirmed, and their worst fears realised. They had always avoided giving him nuts but here, at a self-service counter, an innocent-looking salad was hiding a deadly secret.
“Luckily, due to fast treatment, he pulled through,” Vicky explains. He had gone into anaphylactic shock and without medical treatment, would have likely died. "Afterwards, he got his first Epipen - a self-administering adrenalin injection - to give him a better first line of defence," she explains. "My mum also complained to the supermarket and they changed their salad-bar policy, labelling the contents of each bowl and tethering the cartons to reduce risks of cross-contamination."
Sadly, however, Adam’s story is in no way unique. On July 17, 2016, 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse collapsed on a flight from London to Nice. She had eaten a Pret A Manger sandwich which didn’t state on its labelling that it contained nuts. She later died in hospital.
After an inquest last month, Nadim Ednan-Laperouse stated that his daughter died because of “inadequate food labelling laws” and revealed he had made a promise to the congregation at her funeral that she would receive justice.
“I think we are moving to a tipping point, a really crucial point,” he stated. “A fundamental point for things to actually change in society, for people to become conscious in their conversations and their thoughts about allergies.”
He added: “So things that have previously been in the dark are now going to come out into the light. And that’s really really important, and only good will come from that.” While Pret A Manger have changed their labelling policies, Ednan-Laperouse is campaigning for a change in the law. Speaking of his recent meeting with Member of Parliament Michael Gove, he stated: “That’s a wonderful thing for us, in our situation and also for all the other people who have allergies in this country.”
While religiously studying labels has become the forte of the allergy sufferer, Natasha’s tragic death has proved that they can’t always be trusted. “We taught Natasha to trust labels, to trust ingredients,” her mother Tanya told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday. “She learned all the different words for different allergens.”
“She could read a label and understand it by the time she was nine years old,” she stated. “It was very much a part of our life. There mustn’t be confusion with labels, it really does need to be standardised. If there is a label it should be the same everywhere.” She added: “[Gove] felt it’s the right thing that they should be doing and they should start doing it as soon as possible because, he said, no one should ever, ever suffer a death such as Natasha’s that could be so easily avoided.”
Having almost lost her younger brother, the incident put Vicky’s own allergy in perspective. However, that’s not to say that she didn’t find pitfalls of her own. In fact, in 2015, a year before Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died, she ate a Pret A Manger sandwich only to find out it contained nuts. She emailed them to ask if they would consider labelling their products. She was told that it would be "impossible" and they only aimed to "provide a description of the flavours one may expect in a sandwich".
Other responses seem equally flippant, with Times writer Dominic Lawson suggesting that people with severe allergies should never eat outside their house and one supermarket taking the strange measure of labelling every single item with “may contain nuts”. Meanwhile, the airline Natasha was on has also come under fire not because of this incident but because of its love affair with nuts.
Nuts have traditionally been served on planes for decades and, despite pressure to adopt a no-nuts policy, British Airways still serves them on some services. EasyJet flights will now remove all nut products from the menu if they are given prior warning and Southwest Airlines have now stopped serving all nut products on their flights. However, this wasn’t without a somewhat begrudging press release stating: "Peanuts forever will be part of Southwest's history and DNA."
Of course, nuts aren’t the only offenders when it comes to potentially lethal foodstuffs. In another recent death linked to a Pret A Manger sandwich, a customer with a dairy allergy died on December 27 last year after buying a "super-veg rainbow flatbread" from a branch in Stall Street, Bath.
The item was supposed to be dairy-free and the sandwich chain claimed that it was mis-sold a guaranteed dairy-free yoghurt, as it contained dairy protein. It was supplied by Coyo - a coconut milk brand - who have themselves denied responsibility.
"The allergy community is very bruised by recent reports of fatal food-induced reactions," says allergies specialist Professor George Du Toit. "It is extremely distressing when you see legal cases playing out in the media. The reports typically arise long after the event, with delayed and mixed messages associated. This is all very frightening for allergic patients and their families.”
For those suffering from extreme allergies, all they can do is remain vigilant. For those lucky enough not to have allergies, all we can do is hope - as her parents do - that “Natasha’s Law” does indeed eventually come into effect.