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Yoghurt manufacturer cries at inquest of woman who died after eating her dairy-contaminated product

Bethany Eaton told the hearing that she has not tested her company Planet Coconut's alleged 'dairy-free' product

The manufacturer of a supposedly dairy-free yogurt used in a Pret a Manger vegan wrap burst into tears as it investigates the death of a mother of five who died after eating her product.

Bethany Eaton, the director of Planet Coconut, testified at the Bristol inquest of mother of five Celia Marsh.

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

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The dental nurse from Melksham, Wiltshire, had a severe dairy allergy and collapsed in the street after eating the sandwich they had bought from the chain’s shop 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 heard that the yogurt was produced by Planet Coconut, the British manufacturer and distributor of products developed by Australian yogurt company CoYo.

Ms Eaton told the hearing that she co-founded Planet Coconut in 2011 with her husband to produce dairy-free products and bought a license from CoYo founder Henry Gosling for exclusive rights in the UK.

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

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

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Bethany Eaton told the hearing that she has not tested her company Planet Coconut’s alleged ‘dairy-free’ product

Mother of five Celia Marsh, of Melksham, Wiltshire, suffered from a severe dairy allergy and later died in hospital from the reaction

Mother of five Celia Marsh, of Melksham, Wiltshire, suffered from a severe dairy allergy and later died in hospital from the reaction

Mrs Marsh's husband Andy Marsh (back, center) and her family arrive today for her inquest at Avon and Somerset Coroner's Court in Bristol

Ms Marsh’s family, including husband Andy, was seen arriving for her inquest earlier this month. Members of the family wept as written statements were read to the court

She acknowledged that she had not tested the “raw product” of starch known as HG1 obtained as part of the license from COYO and said her only regret was that she “trusted others”.

She testified at the Bristol inquest today, saying: ‘I never thought for a second that it had dairy in it.

“We never tested the product because I was assured and believed it was made in an allergen-free environment. A dairy-free yogurt made in what I believe to be a separate facility, room, or line that was completely allergen-free.

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“We trusted that.

‘I had never been in the food industry. We’ve done everything we thought we had to do.

“I felt assured from Henry that it was dairy-free and made in a dairy-free environment.”

The court heard that the Planet Coconut yogurt contained few ingredients — mainly coconut cream and “HG1” starch, supplied by sugar giant Tate & Lyle.

The starch was identified as the possible source of the contamination.

Ms Marsh died after eating a 'super-vegetarian rainbow flatbread' (pictured) contaminated with milk protein

Ms Marsh died after eating a ‘super-vegetarian rainbow flatbread’ (pictured) contaminated with milk protein

Ms Eaton said she was sure the yogurt was dairy-free and made in a dairy-free environment

Ms Eaton said she was sure the yogurt was dairy-free and made in a dairy-free environment

Ms Eaton said: ‘Dairy-free is something I’m passionate about and that’s why we bought the CoYo license.

“I never thought it would contain dairy after he (Henry Gosling) sold me a license.

“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 Ms. Eaton if she was considering testing the starch.

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

“I was told there was a separate line or facility that was completely allergen free and we relied on that.”

Ms Marsh had enjoyed a family meal at the Pret A Manger shop (pictured) in Bath, Somerset in December 2017.

Ms Marsh had enjoyed a family meal at the Pret A Manger shop (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

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

The witness said that since Ms Marsh’s death, all products are now being tested, regardless of source.

Ms Eaton began to cry when questioned by attorney Jeremy Hyam KC, who was representing Ms Marsh’s family.

“I had a dairy-free facility, and I had ingredients that I thought were dairy-free, given the guarantees I was given,” she said.

‘I didn’t believe our product contained dairy. He sold me a license for a dairy-free yogurt and I had to buy the product from him.

“He was very protective of his product and I respected that rightly or wrongly. I didn’t believe Henry and Tate & Lyle would make a product that contained dairy.

“We all thought there was no risk because it was made in an allergy-free environment.”

She fought back tears and added, “I’m a little angry and upset about this.

“I didn’t just trust his word, I trusted the fact that I had been licensed a dairy free product and it was manufactured by Tate & Lyle with CoYo and created a very popular dairy free yogurt product in Australia.

“I regret buying a license and trusting someone else’s word and I regret it.

“I’m sorry the questions I asked were not with Henry Gosling and I relied on his assurances and I regret that.”

The inquest also heard from Guy Meakin, interim director of Pret a Manger, who expressed his “extreme sadness” to Ms Marsh’s family for their loss.

“If we had known it had dairy products in it, we would never have used it,” he said.

He said all products are now labeled with ingredients and Pret has introduced allergen risk assessments.

Ms 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 with sesame seeds.

Mrs. Ednan-Laperouse had a sesame allergy.

The tragedy prompted a review of food labeling laws. Retailers are now required to provide full ingredient and allergen labeling on any food made on-site and prepackaged for direct sale, including sandwiches, cakes and salads.

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