A United Kingdom teen celebrating his 18th birthday went for a meal at a popular burger joint in London. Hours later, he died.
Owen Carey had a severe allergy to dairy. In April 2017, to celebrate his 18th birthday, Carey went to Byron Burgers’ location along the River Thames in London.
He alerted staff to his dairy allergy, inquiring if the grilled chicken he was eyeing would be safe for him to eat — especially because the chain’s menu, at the time, reportedly made “no mention” of the marinade or what ingredients it contained, including potential allergens, the BBC reported.
The 18-year-old was seemingly satisfied with the response he received from staff members and proceeded to order the chicken. But shortly after leaving the restaurant, Carey began to feel unwell. Less than an hour later, the teen collapsed near the London Eye. He was rushed to St. Thomas's Hospital in central London, but died.
Soon after, the teen’s family would learn the chicken Carey ate was marinated in buttermilk, sparking his anaphylactic reaction. Though Carey typically carried an EpiPen, he did not have it with him the day he ate the buttermilk-laden chicken, according to the Guardian.
Following an inquest into Carey’s death, a coroner on Friday announced at Southwark Coroner’s Court that Carey was misled into thinking the chicken was safe for him to eat.
Carey, according to statement read in court by assistant coroner Briony Ballard, “died from a severe food-induced anaphylactic reaction from food eaten and ordered at a restaurant despite making staff aware of his allergies,” according to the British Press Association.
"Owen was the shining light in our family."
He continued: “The menu was reassuring in that it made no reference to any marinade or potential allergenic ingredients 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.”
Carey’s family is now pushing for new laws on allergen labeling in restaurants.
"Owen was the shining light in our family," the teen’s sister, Emma Kocher, said in a statement outside of court.
“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,” she continued.
“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,” she added.
Aimee Leitner-Hopps, Byron’s technical manager, told the Guardian the allergy information on the chain's menu "met industry standards" at the time of Carey's death.
“If you have an allergy you should be asking for information and the team would be able to provide that information in the allergy guide," she said, adding staff had also received online allergen training.
"It was apparent to me training available to the teams was sufficient," she noted.
On its online menu, Byron’s now mentions the buttermilk marinade used on some of its chicken dishes.
"We cannot guarantee that our kitchens or our suppliers are 100 percent allergen-free," the menu reads.
"While our teams adhere to strict standards, we do prepare food in a kitchen and bar area where allergens, including gluten, are present. We do not declare every ingredient used within a dish on this menu. If you have any specific dietary requirements or allergies, we have a comprehensive allergy guide to help you make the right choice for you – please ask our team for a copy of the allergy guide before you place your order," it continues.