Family of teenager who died of allergic reaction to Byron meal demand law change

By Thomas Hornall, PA

The family of a teenager who died after eating a birthday meal at a branch of the Byron burger chain have demanded a change in the law on allergen labelling in restaurants after a coroner said he was misled into thinking the meal was safe for him to eat.

Owen Carey, who told staff he was allergic to dairy, suffered a fatal reaction after eating grilled chicken coated in buttermilk at a restaurant at the O2 Arena in Greenwich in April 2017.

In a statement outside Southwark Coroner’s Court, Mr Carey’s family called on the food industry to “put the safety of their customers first”.

They said: “Owen was the shining light in our family.

“We are calling on the Government to change the law on allergen labelling in restaurants.

Owen Carey had eaten chicken marinated in buttermilk (Family handout/PA)

“We want restaurants to have to display clear allergen information on each individual dish on their menus.

“The food industry should put the safety of their customers first.

“It is simply not good enough to have a policy which relies on verbal communication between the customer and their server, which often takes places in a busy, noisy restaurant where the turnover of staff is high and many of their customers are very young.”

In a written conclusion, assistant coroner Briony Ballard said Owen “died from a severe food-induced anaphylactic reaction from food eaten and ordered at a restaurant despite making staff aware of his allergies”.

The coroner said: “The menu was reassuring in that it made no reference to any marinade or potential allergenic ingredient in the food selected.

“The deceased was not informed that there were allergens in the order.

“The food served to and consumed by the deceased contained dairy which caused the deceased to suffer a severe anaphylactic reaction from which he died.”

The family of Owen Cary outside Southwark Coroner’s Court (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Carey, of Crowborough, East Sussex, collapsed less than an hour after first experiencing the reaction.

Speaking outside court after the inquest, Byron chief executive Simon Wilkinson said his death was a “matter of great regret and sadness”.

He said in a statement: “We take allergies extremely seriously and have robust procedures in place and although those procedures were in line with all the rules and guidelines, we train our staff to respond in the right way.

“It is a matter of great regret and sadness that our high standards of communicating with our customers were not met during Owen’s visit.

“We believe we always did our best to meet our responsibilities but we know that this will be of no comfort to Owen’s family.

“We have heard what the coroner said about the need to communicate about allergies and it is clear that the current rules and requirements are not enough and the industry needs to do more.

Owen’s sister Emma Kocher and father Paul Carey after the inquest (Yui Mok/PA)

“We will make it our priority to work with our colleagues across the restaurant industry to ensure that standards and levels of awareness are improved.”

In June this year former Environment Secretary Michael Gove promised a new law protecting allergy sufferers following the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse.

Under “Natasha’s law”, food businesses will have to include full ingredients labelling on pre-packaged food.

Natasha suffered a severe allergic reaction to sesame seeds which were not listed in the ingredients of an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette bought in Heathrow Airport.

She died of anaphylaxis after collapsing on board a flight to Nice on 17 July 2016.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the law would come into effect in October 2021.

Natasha’s parents Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse established the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation in her memory with the aim of establishing a research centre at the University of Southampton to find a cure for allergies.

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