The M&S cinnamon whirlwind that left a woman fighting for her life on the return bus

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Having lived with a severe wheat allergy for 30 years, occupational therapist Marcelle Williams had learned to shop with caution.

So one evening in December last year, she got hungry after a long day of work on the Covid-19 on the front line, she made sure to have a suitable snack.

As she rushed into the local Marks & Spencer branch at Queen’s Hospital in Romford, Essex, where she works, Marcelle, 62, selected a swirl of cinnamon from the shelves displaying the ‘Made Without’ line of products. »From the retailer; made without major food allergens such as tree nuts, dairy products, eggs and wheat.

Having lived with a severe wheat allergy for 30 years, occupational therapist Marcelle Williams had learned to shop carefully.

“I love their cinnamon swirls and buy them often,” says Marcelle, who retired from the NHS two years ago but has returned to help during the pandemic. But seconds after biting into the pastry on her return bus trip, Marcelle realized there had been a terrible mistake.

“My lips started to swell and my skin started to itch,” says the mother of two, who has three grandchildren.

She was in anaphylactic shock, where the immune system floods the body with a chemical called histamine to clear what it thinks is a full-scale invasion of the allergy trigger. This makes breathing difficult by inflaming the airways and triggering a potentially fatal drop in blood pressure.

Marcelle has an EpiPen, a self-administered injection of epinephrine, which stops the potentially fatal reaction in its tracks.

“The problem is, when I have anaphylaxis, my hands and fingers swell up quickly and become like claws,” Marcelle explains. “They are so swollen that it is impossible to inject me with an EpiPen.”

She managed to phone her partner, Tony Joyce, 68, and he made his way to the next bus stop, before driving her straight to A&E.

Marcelle, 62, selected a cinnamon swirl from the shelves showcasing the retailer's “Made Without” product line;  made without major food allergens such as tree nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat [File photo]

Marcelle, 62, selected a cinnamon swirl from the shelves displaying the retailer’s “Made Without” product line; made without major food allergens such as tree nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat [File photo]

“Shortly after arriving at the hospital, I passed out,” says Marcelle. “Poor Tony had to wait outside due to the Covid restrictions and for the next 15 or 20 minutes he had no idea if I was dead or alive.”

The medical staff quickly gave her more adrenaline and gave her antihistamines and albuterol to open her airways.

“When I woke up 20 minutes later, I also had a mask on my face that carried oxygen to my lungs because my oxygen levels were low,” says Marcelle.

She was released later that night with an eight-day course of steroid tablets to remove any lingering inflammation. “Over the next two days, I was exhausted and exhausted,” she says.

Once the shock passed, the anger set in. The next day, Marcelle and Tony revisited the store to check out the display and found wheat-based cinnamon swirls stacked on the “Made Without” shelves.

“I was furious,” says Marcelle. “The two products are presented side by side, without a partition between the shelves.

“The shelf with the normal cinnamon swirls was full, so someone moved the excess to the ‘free of’ shelf.

“It was an accident waiting to happen and when I complained to M&S I received an apology and a £ 50 voucher,” says Marcelle. “It barely covered the cost of the bra the doctors had to cut with a pair of scissors to save my life.”

In a statement to Good Health, M&S admitted the items were in the wrong place, but insisted the cinnamon swirl packet “was clearly labeled as containing wheat” and the Made Without range is in one ” specific bold design “to distinguish foods containing allergens.

The company said, “We take allergens very seriously. We were sorry to hear about this customer’s experience, but it was an isolated incident. ‘ Later this week, new legislation – called Natasha’s Law – comes into force that requires all grocery retailers (from supermarket giants to family-owned cafes) to ensure that every food prepackaged for direct sale lists every ingredient and allergen. .

However, while welcome, the rules will not eliminate the mistakes that put Marcelle at risk.

And Dr Isabel Skypala, a food allergy dietician at Royal Brompton Hospital in London, says that while food retailers have improved the product line without products for the two million people with food allergies in the UK, mistakes are still committed.

“This is a pretty serious case of human error and if Marcelle had eaten the whole whirlwind she would have been exposed to a significant amount of wheat,” she says.

Dr Skypala said he had heard of other cases where products containing allergens had not been properly labeled and purchased by people with food allergies.

“Most of these cases involve loose or unpackaged foods and I advise my patients with severe food allergies not to buy them,” she says.

The kind of mistakes that led Marcelle to fight for her life are more common than you might think.

In March, Asda came under fire after a customer noticed that the Scan & Go app for online shopping failed to highlight allergens in a number of items.

This was revealed when the mother of a young boy with a severe egg allergy checked the products she had purchased, described on the app as egg-free, to find they contained eggs. Fortunately, she noticed it before her child ate them.

Another customer with an allergy to dairy claimed that the app did not list milk on certain products. Asda said this was due to a technical error and that it is in the process of updating the app to show all allergy-related information.

But some activists believe these mistakes, rare as they are, are symptomatic of the food distribution industry’s long-standing complacency with severe food allergies.

“Marcelle could have died and I have heard similar stories from other people,” says Nadim Ednan-Laperouse, whose daughter Natasha died at the age of 15 on a Heathrow-Nice flight in July 2016 after a reaction allergic to sesame in a high chain Pret A Manger baguette.

Nowhere on the packaging does it say it was an ingredient. Her parents spearheaded Natasha’s law, which states that all sandwiches or other items prepared by staff must have a label listing each ingredient and allergen. Ideally, these should be printed but can be handwritten.

Businesses must comply before the Oct. 1 deadline or face hefty fines or even lawsuits.

“It has always been entirely due to the allergic person being extremely vigilant,” explains Nadim. “But Natasha’s Law is firing the first shot through the arcs of the food business. Companies must now comply, it is not negotiable ”.

A study from Imperial College London shows that UK hospital admissions for food allergies have tripled in 20 years, with the largest increase in children under 15.

Deaths have declined, mainly due to a 300% increase in prescriptions for life-saving devices such as EpiPens.

But the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation fears the deaths are underreported – or wrongly attributed to other causes – and wants a national registry of food-related anaphylaxis deaths.

“It is a real tragedy for someone to die of an allergy in the 21st century,” says Sir Stephen Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology and administrator of the foundation.

Marcelle says retailers should display all allergenic and product-free products from meters away.

“Food shopping can be a life and death situation for a lot of people,” she says. “A simple measure like this isn’t too much to ask.”

Revolting remedies

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Fly therapy is commonly used in the NHS for debridement, the removal of dead, unhealthy or infected tissue, as well as to cleanse surgical and traumatic wounds and leg and pressure ulcers.

“Maggot therapy can be used when other means of removing this tissue are not suitable,” says Samantha Holloway, lecturer in wound healing and tissue repair at Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales.

“For example, scalpels can cause excessive bleeding, and some specialty dressings can take weeks to achieve the same result as maggots. They are not only quick and efficient at removing dead tissue, they also have an antimicrobial effect. [thanks to the compounds they release] that help manage wound infection, which speeds healing.


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