A Mother's Horror: A Choc Chip Cookie Killed My Daughter

Now there's a push for tougher rules about how all food products are labelled.

A mother who tried to revive her daughter as she died from an allergic reaction, is now taking on food manufacturers in a bid to strengthen allergen labelling laws.

Isabel Marrero was 9-years-old when she died from an anaphylactic reaction in March this year, after her mother gave her what looked like her favourite biscuit.

Helen Marrero routinely bought Cadbury choc chip cookies, but what she didn't realise was, this time, she unknowingly bought a different product -- which bar one word -- looked much the same as the one she'd been buying for years.

“They both look like choc chip cookies to me even when you open them up they look pretty identical but one has the allergen egg and one doesn’t,” she said.

Cadbury stocks these two choc chip cookies variations.

Isabel starting coughing and choking and her mother gave her a puffer as she suffers from asthma.

And given she hadn't had an allergic reaction in six years, and the family was "very stringent about everything she ate", Marrero didn't realise the cookie was the culprit.

“We didn't find out until a little bit later that Isabel was going into anaphylactic shock and the paramedics tried to revive her but weren't successful."

Marrero says it's hard to describe her loss, and that life without Isabel  "has been very hard, just ever second thinking about her and trying to implement change so this doesn't occur again."

"I know some people might say how didn't I notice it was a different product,  but when there is a paid [Cadbury Stand] display with both of them mixed up you can easily grab it, they look the same, and it's just an accident waiting to happen.”

Australia is the allergy capital of the world -- 1 in 20 Aussie kids has a food allergy.

“We learn from every death and we should be learning from what happened to Isabel," Maria Said, CEO of Allergy and Anaphylaxis Australia said. 

There has been a 10 percent increase in allergy fatalities between 2007 to 2013.

”But we still have a way to go when it comes to differentiating similar packets of food when one has an allergen and the other may not,” she said.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is the food regulatory body. In a statement a spokeswoman said, "FSANZ is saddened to hear of this tragic incident."

The Food Standards Code require businesses to declare allergens on product labels - but it doesn't say how or where. And there are no requirements to inform customers if they alter the product.

Allergy groups also want to be notified any time a products' ingredients change so they can inform the public.

Said is concerned about a popular pasta sauce which recently changed its ingredients--involving an allergen--but there is no legal requirement to let consumers know.

"As part of social responsibility manufacturers could be doing more to help inform individuals when ingredient lists change," Said told ten daily.

The regulatory body told ten daily they're now working on a proposal to change the law.

"To make allergen declarations clearer so that consumers can have greater confidence in getting the information they need to make informed and safe food choices."

A Cadbury spokesperson said Isabel's death is a "tragic incident."

"We go above and beyond industry standards when labelling our food products, 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," Cadbury said in a statement to ten daily. 

Marrero is lobbying the government and has begun a petition pushing for change.

"By me putting the word out to the community I want families to understand that food standards isn't up to scratch at the moment."

And despite how arduous and time consuming it may feel, she urges parents to read every ingredients list before purchasing.

“Please, which I have learnt now, please read every single time you have purchased a product, even if you've been buying it for five years.”

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au

Featured Image: Supplied