The family of a teenager who died after suffering an allergic reaction to chicken covered in buttermilk served at a branch of Byron have demanded a change in the law after a coroner said he would have found the menu “reassuring”.
Owen Carey, who had a dairy allergy, suffered a fatal reaction on 22 April 2017 after consuming grilled chicken coated in buttermilk at the burger group’s restaurant in the O2 Arena, in Greenwich, London.
The inquest had heard that Carey, of Crowborough, East Sussex, did not realise the chicken he ate contained the ingredient, which had not been listed on the menu.
In a statement outside Southwark Coroner's Court, 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.
“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.”
Following the inquest, which concluded this morning, Byron said it was “clear that the current rules and requirements [around allergens] are not enough and the industry needs to do more”, pledging to make a priority to improve standards and awareness.
In a written conclusion, assistant coroner Briony Ballard had 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.”
Following the ruling Byron’s CEO Simon Wilkinson said: “I would like to extend both Byron’s and my deepest condolences to Owen’s family and his many friends.
“We take allergies extremely seriously and have robust procedures in place. Although these procedures were in line with all the rules and guidelines, and 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 that Byron always did its best to meet our responsibilities, but we know this will be of no comfort to Owen’s family.
“We have heard what the coroner said about the need to communicate about allergies. It is clear that the current rules and requirements are not enough and the industry needs to do more – more to help support customers with allergies and more to raise awareness of the risks of allergies.
“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.”
Earlier this month 'Natasha’s Law' was enacted in parliament, which from October 2021 will require full ingredient and allergen labelling on all food prepared and packed on the same premises from which it is sold.
The change followed the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered an allergic reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette containing sesame. At an inquest into her death a coroner had described the sandwich chain’s allergen labelling as “inadequate”.
Natasha's parents Tanya and Nadim Ednan-Laperouse attended the inquest and said afterwards: “We have heard remarkable parallels between Owen and Natasha's death.
“Owen's death yet again highlights the inadequacy of food information in this country.
“This verdict is a landmark judgment for millions of allergy sufferers in this country and another clear statement to the food industry that things cannot go on as they are.
“Our hearts go out to Owen Carey's family, who will always carry their terrible grief knowing Owen's death was so preventable.”