Foodservice company Gather & Gather is being sued by a number of people who fell ill after eating chicken liver parfait at an event at the Brewery on Chiswell Street in the City of London.
One attendee at the dinner, held during the Digital Impact Awards on 17 October 2017, was left fighting for his life after he contracted Miller Fisher Syndrome, a rare form of food poisoning, according to Leigh Day, the solicitors who are representing the diners.
An investigation conducted by Public Health England found that campylobacter bacterium was present in the chicken liver parfait element of a starter dish, which also contained pigeon breast, beetroot and a hazelnut dressing.
Miller Fisher Syndrome causes abnormal muscle co-ordination, paralysis of the eye muscles and absence of the tendon reflexes. The disease can be fatal for nearly 8% of people who contract the condition.
Senior telecoms executive Philip Earlam, 47, was diagnosed with the illness after initially suffering from sickness and diarrhea when he returned to his home in Cheshire following the dinner. After two weeks off work he began to experience double vision and was admitted to Leighton Hospital in Crewe.
Within 24 hours, his condition rapidly deteriorated and he was transferred to a specialised neurological ward at Royal Stoke University Hospital. As his condition declined Earlam lost the use of his limbs, his speech and the ability to blink, making sleep impossible.
Earlam said: “Within the space of 24 hours I’d gone from planning on returning to work to being in intensive care, hooked up to various machines, and with the staff struggling to establish what was wrong with me as my condition deteriorated on an hourly basis.
“It was at this point that I remember trying to communicate to my wife that I didn’t want our son to see me as I felt like I was turning into a vegetable; I couldn’t move and I could barely see. It was so frightening seeing parts of my body shut down and having no idea why it was happening or what could be done to stop it.”
Earlam was treated in hospital for seven weeks.
Angela Bruno, a lawyer at Leigh Day, said around 500 people attended the event at the Brewery last October and the true scale of those affected is unknown
“What happened in this case was an extreme case of food poisoning and the last five months have been very difficult for Mr Earlam, his family and his friends.
“We remain hopeful that his health continues to improve and that in time he is able to make a full recovery and move on from what should have been an evening of celebration, but which turned into months of illness, suffering and continued rehabilitation.”
Lawyers from Leigh Day are also investigating another outbreak of campylobacter bacterium from an event held on 29 September 2017 at the Brewery, which was also catered for by Gather & Gather.
Gather & Gather, which is the catering arm of Mitie Group’s facilities management division, no longer caters at the Brewery, having previously worked at the site from 2012 to April this year.
A spokesperson for the company said: “We take food safety and the wellbeing of all our guests extremely seriously. We are aware of an incident involving a number of guests following an event in October 2017. We fully co-operated with Public Health England’s investigation at the time. We have been liaising with affected individuals that we are currently aware of, and will continue to do so.”