Chicken burger fatality: family wants changes to the allergen laws

Published: 19 Sep 2019

News of incidents and deaths involving allergens are becoming far too common place. Following on from the much publicised case involving Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, we learn of the tragic passing of Owen Carey.

Owen celebrated his 18th birthday by ordering a chicken burger at a well known burger outlet at the 02 in London on 22 April 2017. At the time of ordering, the teenager informed staff at the restaurant that he suffered from a dairy allergy and was assured that the meal was free from dairy products.

During the inquest, it has been reported that the chicken used in the dish had been marinated in buttermilk which staff had failed to communicate to Owen. "The menu was reassuring in that it made no reference to any marinade or potential allergenic ingredient in the food selected."

He ate half of his chicken before he felt his lips tingling and experienced stomach problems, the hearing was told.

The teenager collapsed 55 minutes later outside the London Eye. Attempts to revive Owen had failed and the when the paramedics arrived, he was already dead.

Owens family hope to bring about change with Owen's Law for better allergen labelling in restaurants.

These two cases highlight the consequences of what can go wrong if allergen information is incorrect or  if there is miscommunication during the ordering process of foods. Since the introduction of the Allergen labelling law in 2014, it would appear that the food industry still has a long way to go with effective management of allergen policies.

Allergen protocols are fully embedded in our food safety law and it is extremely important that allergens are managed well within all food businesses at every stage in the process. All allergen reactions and fatalities can be avoided with good practices at site and it is fundamental that these are adopted to avoid innocent people suffering.

People deserve food they can trust and a well managed, trusted and caring operation is not only good for the consumer but also for the business.

Below are important allergen procedures which should be adopted:

  • Awareness- All staff should be aware of the importance of allergen awareness. Members of the kitchen team and front of house must be trained and knowledgeable of the allergen content of food and trained in allergens. This must include agency or contracted workers.
  • Clear, well presented, up to date allergen information of foods sold/served in the food establishment must be readily available for members of the public and staff aware of these. Menus and/or display boards can be used for this purpose.
  • Any changes to the menu or any changes of ingredients are updated in the allergen information and all staff made aware.
  • Segregation – Ensure that all allergen products are kept in sealed plastic containers to avoid any cross contamination of products and ensure all allergens ingredients are kept separate.
  • Whilst much focus is placed on the 14 allergens that must be declared by law, it is important to remember that there are many other ingredients that your guests could have an intolerance to, eg. Chilli. It is therefore critical that the same due diligence is applied in this instance.

Even the most well thought out policies can be flawed if clear lines of communication in relation to allergen management are not followed. It is imperative that the front of house team communicate effectively with the kitchen team to ensure that food orders are processed correctly to avoid any confusion. Having a standard operating procedure in this instance can prevent unfortunate scenarios.

For further advice, training or assistance, do not hesitate to contact CSC.