The UK out-of-home food sector needs to do more to help customers with allergies, according to the CEO of Byron Burger.
He was speaking after an inquest into the death of a teenager with a dairy allergy who died after eating chicken that had been cooked in buttermilk at a Byron restaurant in London. The coroner ruled that Owen Carey had been "reassured" by the wording of the menu.
Carey died as a result of “asthma exacerbation in the context of a severe food allergic reaction”, after eating a Byron skinny grilled chicken burger while celebrating his 18th birthday with his family on 22 April 2017.
The menu did not show the chicken burger contained buttermilk. Byron told the inquest that a notice on the menu asked customers to advise staff of their allergies. However, the inquest ruled that Carey had told serving staff about his allergies but was not told the meal included buttermilk.
The coroner said Byron met industry standards in terms of the wording on the menu, but blamed a breakdown in the system that allowed Carey's order to go through.
The verbal training given to staff about allergens, the coroner concluded, may not "catch the less diligent staff".
UK law currently states that full allergen information must be provided if any food served contains any of the main 14 allergens as an ingredient. This should be provided in writing either on a menu, chalkboard or in an information pack, or a written notice should be placed in a clearly visible position explaining how customers can obtain this information - for example by speaking to a member of staff.
Speaking after the ruling, Owen Carey’s family said the current standards on relying on verbal communication about allergens were not good enough. They called for a new “Owen’s law” for better labelling of allergens.
Carey's sister Emma Kocher said: "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."
‘It's clear current rules and requirements are not enough’
Simon Wilkinson, the CEO of Byron Burger said: "We take allergies extremely seriously and have robust procedures in place. We train our staff to respond in the right way."
But he added: "It's clear current rules and requirements are not enough and the industry needs to do more - more to help customers with allergies and more to raise awareness of the risks of allergies.
"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," he said.
"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 will make it our priority to work with our colleagues across the restaurant industry to ensure that standards and levels of awareness are improved."
Tragic parallels between Owen and Natasha's death
In July, new legislation was passed in the UK requiring food businesses to included full ingredients lists on pre-packaged food labelling. This ruling, known as ‘Natasha’s law’, came about after the death of 15-year old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered a fatal reaction to a Pret A Manger baguette.
Natasha’s parents, who have been supporting Owen Carey’s family, called his inquest a "landmark judgment for millions of allergy sufferers in this country".
They said in a statement: "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."