Two women in Italy have been investigated for manslaughter after a woman with a severe dairy allergy died from a tiramisu that was sold to her as “vegan” but contained dairy. On 26th January 2023, Anna Bellisario, 20, had been dining with her boyfriend at a fast-food restaurant in Milan, Italy, when she went into anaphylactic shock after eating a slice of the tiramisu. She died in hospital on 5th February 2023. Tests later revealed that the dessert contained mascarpone, a type of soft Italian cream cheese made with milk. According to the Italian Ministry of Health, the dessert was a ready-made item that after the incident was recalled from 63 restaurants throughout Italy.

It appears that Bellisario had checked the label of the tiramisu but also asked for “more information” to be sure. Traces of milk protein were later found on tiramisu packaging from the brand, along with traces of egg in the mayonnaise of the “vegan” sandwich she had eaten.

The women investigated ran the pastry shop that supplied the restaurant, and it is believed they may have mixed up an invoice or vegan pastries for one of the desserts containing milk. Prosecutors Tiziana Siciliano and Luca Gaglio argue that a separation of ingredients in the factory and “correct training” of staff could have prevented the tragedy.

The issue of cross-contamination and wrong labeling of products produced by companies that are not certified vegan is not only an ethical issue, but it can also cause death in the cases of severe allergies. When customers ask restaurants, these may be telling them the products are vegan without realising that they have been cross-contaminated or wrongly labeled at the producer or supplier level.

Jordi Casamitjana
“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.