Islington Tribune - by CHARLOTTE CHAMBERS Published: 16 January 2009
Drinks label fears after child’s death
Juice company satisfied carton met regulations
A CORONER has raised concerns about drinks labels after a seven-year-old boy who drank a pineapple and coconut juice drink died from a milk allergy. Dr Andrew Reid said there was an “obvious contrast” between packaging for products containing milk and those that are often labelled unsuitable for people who can’t eat nuts.
Deja Vacey Hay, from Georges Road, Holloway, died last April after he was given the drink by his mother.
The coroner has written to drinks company Rubicon Drinks Limited although the origin of the drink Deja drank was not proven at an inquest held by Dr Reid in September.
The company is due to change packaging on its juice drinks in February, but directors said the changes were not being made in relation to Deja’s death.
The inquest heard how the boy’s mother told police she had relied on the pictures on the packaging, which featured a pineapple and a coconut but made no reference to milk. It later emerged that on some cartons its milk ingredient had been partially obscured by a pineapple leaf.
Dr Reid has sent a report compiled from the findings of the inquest, held at St Pancras Coroner’s Court, to Rubicon and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
It said: “…it is surprising that a drinks carton sold with a drinking straw, and therefore very likely to be purchased on behalf of a child, did not contain a more express warning about its cow’s milk content”.
He added: “There is an obvious contrast to be made between the labelling of this product and the extent to which consumers’ attention is now drawn to whether food ingredients contain nuts or nut products.”
Deja began hyperventilating after being given the drink. He later died at the Whittington Hospital in Archway.
Last night (Thursday), the FSA maintained an ingredients list was the clearest way to warn consumers of potential allergies.
Hazel Gowland, a food adviser from the Anaphylaxis Campaign, added: “Deja’s mum had years of experience avoiding milk and was extremely careful, not just because of his severe allergy but also because she and another child have similar allergies. At seven, Deja was starting to check packets and read ingredients himself. He and his mum both examined the box before she bought the juice.”
In response to Dr Reid’s recommendations, Roger White, a Rubicon director, said he was considering including an “allergen box” warning on the carton, although he pointed out it was conceived not as a result of Deja’s death but to “provide extra clarity”.
He accepted that a small part of the word “skimmed milk” had been hidden behind the image of a pineapple leaf in the company’s “old packaging,” which was distributed just weeks before Deja’s death. But he said it wasn’t clear that this was the carton he drank from and added: “[The word] is still clearly visible given it is portrayed in black print.”
He said there was no obligation to follow FSA best practice guidelines – which state allergen ingredients should not be on a colourful background or obscured by pictures – and said all of their packaging complied with law. Barbara Down, head of marketing, added: “Rubicon was very sorry to hear of the death of Deja Vacey Hay and our thoughts are with the family. “As a responsible manufacturer, all Rubicon products are clearly labelled with ingredient lists which are in line with regulations in the UK and Europe.”