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Family call for 'Owen's Law' following inquest conclusion

Lawyer for the family of Owen Carey says food regulations relating to allergy information provided by restaurants are not 'fit for purpose'

Posted on 13 September 2019

The family of Owen Carey have called for ‘Owen’s Law’ to strengthen the food regulations in relation to allergy information on menus of restaurants.

Owen, who lived in East Sussex, died on 22 April 2017 after eating at the Byron hamburger restaurant at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London whilst celebrating his 18th birthday with his family.

Owen had a number of allergies, including dairy and on his visit to the restaurant he had eaten a grilled chicken breast without a bun. He had no idea that the chicken had been marinated in buttermilk, which the Coroner heard triggered an allergic reaction that led to his death.

In her conclusion today at Southwark Coroner’s Court Assistant Coroner Briony Ballard said that Owen died from a severe food induced anaphylactic reaction from food eaten and ordered at a restaurant despite making staff aware of his allergies.

In evidence at the earlier hearing of the inquest in September 2018, the court heard that Owen’s family members and Owen’s girlfriend had all confirmed that they heard Owen tell their server that he had allergies and the coroner accepted this evidence.

This should have triggered the restaurant’s allergy protocol which dictates that Owen should then have been provided with an allergy matrix which highlights the allergens present in each of the menu items. This was not provided.

The inquest heard that the item that Owen ordered was described on the menu as “Classic Chicken - grilled chicken breast, shredded iceberg, tomato, red onion, pickles, Byron sauce”. Owen ordered the grilled chicken breast without the bun, no extras or sauce and plain salad on the side, however, evidence was heard at the inquest that the chicken was marinated in buttermilk.

The menu gave the false impression that the chicken breast was free of allergens. Owen began to feel tingling in his lips, suffered stomach cramps and had difficulty breathing. He collapsed around 30 minute later, near the London Eye.

There was no evidence to show that Byron ensured that their serving staff understood and complied with the systems which seek to ensure that allergen issues are properly communicated by their staff.

Paediatric allergist Dr Robert Boyle also gave evidence that not enough was being learned from anaphylaxis deaths and suggested a national register would be helpful to make sure that there was a proper record of each death and so that any common factors could be studied with a view to reducing the number of fatalities.

Following the conclusion, the Carey family said: “Owen was the shining light in our family and his death should not have happened. We hope now that something good can come out of it and we are calling on the government to change the law on allergen labelling for 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 and be proactive in protecting those with allergies. It is simply not good enough to have a policy which relies on verbal communication between the customer and their server, which often takes place in a busy, noisy restaurant where the turnover of staff is high and many of their customers are very young. This leaves far too much room for error on an issue we know all too well can cost lives. “We hope that we can bring about change with ‘Owen’s Law’ for better allergen labelling in restaurants.”

Thomas Jervis, solicitor in the product safety team at Leigh Day who represented Owen's family, said: “No family should have to endure the heartbreak that the Carey family has gone through. We are pleased that the family have finally been able to get some answers on the circumstances around Owen’s death.

“Despite evidence that Owen clearly stated he had allergies, the Coroner found that there was a failure to act upon this and that Owen was reassured by the description of the chicken that it was safe for him to eat.

“The food regulations relating to allergy information provided by restaurants are clearly not fit for purpose – it cannot be right that there is such room for human error on an issue that can be fatal.

“There are millions of people in the UK who suffer from food allergies and it is only right that they are able to make fully informed decisions about the food that they eat.”