A Melbourne mum is campaigning for food companies to change their product packaging after her nine-year-old daughter died from a severe allergic reaction when eating the wrong Cadbury’s biscuit.
Isabel Marrero went into anaphylactic shock after eating an allergen-containing biscuit wrapped in almost identical packaging to the non-allergen version.
Her mum Helen thought she had bought Isabel her favourite Cadbury’s Chocolate Chip Cookies with “choc centre”, but given the similarity of the packaging, she had accidentally picked up the Cadbury’s “soft centre”, which contained an egg allergen.
Both biscuits have purple packaging, the same lettering and no visible allergen warning on the front of the packet.
Isabel ate the biscuit and then began coughing and choking.
Helen initially thought her daughter was having an asthma attack, not suspecting the biscuits were the culprit.
Tragically Isabel died after going into anaphylactic shock, meaning a severe allergic reaction which results in a rapid drop in blood pressure and an inability to breathe.
Devastated by her daughter’s death, Isabel’s mum is now campaigning to have packaging changed on products so that different flavours of the same product are clearly differentiated.
A Cadbury spokeswoman said that the company had been selling this brand of biscuits for about two and a half years and the recipe had not changed during this time.
“We’re very concerned to have heard of this tragic incident,” the spokeswoman said.
She said Cadbury had started taking steps to further improve packaging soon after it was contacted by Ms Marrero.
Ms Marrero is also campaigning to make sure that allergen-containing products are clearly labelled on the front of the packet – not just in small print of the ingredient list.
“There are a few loopholes in the way companies label their products that I’m trying to change,” Ms Marrero told Yahoo7.
“I’m pushing for that to protect the consumer, because I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve gone through.
“I’ve started a Change.org petition, I’ve been in touch with Food Standards Australia, I’ve also been in touch with local MPs, even the new Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“I’m reaching out to whoever I can, anyone who is paying attention, to let them know there is a loophole there.”
In her petition, Helen writes: “Russian roulette is played every day without the consumer being aware.
“If there is an ingredient added or taken out from a food product, there should be a change in label.
“Companies at this stage still keep the same name and label of product and are free to change ingredients as they please. More strict regulations should be implemented on this.
“They should differentiate between same range or similar products, especially if there is an allergen present within the product.”
Cadbury working to improve design of packs
“We go above and beyond industry standards when labelling our food products,” the Cadbury spokeswoman said.
For example, we call out new allergens on the front of pack when ingredients change, and we are always listening to suggestions to see what we can do to make it easier for consumers when choosing food products.
“While our packaging is fully compliant, we recognise the importance of continuing to stay abreast of, and sharing best-practice labelling approaches that could be applied by us and by the broader food industry.
“We are working with Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia to continue to educate our employees and consumers about food allergy risks and we are taking steps to improve the design even further by making the packs more easily distinguishable, so that consumers are encouraged to turn over and read the allergen labels, something we always encourage consumers to do.“
Businesses required to declare food allergens
In a statement to Yahoo7, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) said businesses were required to declare certain food allergens on product labels under the Food standards Code.
“Food businesses must ensure they meet these requirements,” they said.
“The Code is enforced by state and territory authorities. The Code does not state where or how allergen declarations must be made on the label.
“Manufacturers usually declare the presence of allergens in the ingredient list or in an allergen summary statement.”
FSANZ said they encouraged all consumers to carefully check food labels for allergens when purchasing food.
It added it was working on Proposal P1044 Plain English Allergen Labelling, which aims to make allergen declarations clearer in order to give consumers more confidence that they are getting the information they need to make “informed and safe food choices.”
“This incident highlights the importance of continued education and awareness of the seriousness of food allergies,” they added.
Helen Marrero’s Change.org petition can be found here.