Owen Carey died after eating grilled chicken at a burger chain in London. Picture: Supplied
Owen Carey died after eating grilled chicken at a burger chain in London. Picture: Supplied

Teen dies in girlfriend’s arms after burger

Owen Carey was out on a "birthday treat" with his girlfriend when he collapsed underneath the London Eye.

Members of the public, including a doctor, rushed to help resuscitate the 18-year-old as he lay cradled in his girlfriend's arms, but by the time paramedics arrived he was silent and without a pulse.

He was later pronounced dead in hospital.

Just 55 minutes earlier, Owen had ordered skinny grilled chicken and fries at Byron, a popular burger chain in the United Kingdom.

He'd told the serving staff he was severely allergic to dairy, wheat and nuts, but halfway through the meal began complaining of tingling lips and stomach cramps.

Owen Carey’s friends said they clearly remembered him telling staff about his allergies. Picture: Supplied
Owen Carey’s friends said they clearly remembered him telling staff about his allergies. Picture: Supplied

An inquest into his death revealed the chicken had been marinated in buttermilk, despite no mention of the allergen on the menu.

"The menu was reassuring in that it made no reference to any marinade or any potential allergenic ingredient in the food selected," assistant coroner Briony Ballard said.

Owen had died from a severe food-induced anaphylactic reaction.

 

OWEN'S DEATH 'A TRAGEDY'

Owen's sister, Emma Kocher, said he'd been the "shining light" of his family.

"His death should not have happened," she said, standing with her parents outside Southwark Coroner's Court on Friday.

Owen's girlfriend, Martha, stood behind them, red-eyed after an emotional few days in court.

The inquest heard that while Owen had forgotten his EpiPen on the night he died, it probably wouldn't have saved him.

"Fatal food anaphylaxis is uncommon and it is very fast. Typically people die 30 to 40 minutes after they have eaten the food," allergy specialist Dr Robert Boyle said.

RELATED: Perth girl, 6, dies from severe allergic reaction after eating a dairy product

Emma Kocher said her brother was the “shining light” of their family. Picture: Alle McMahon
Emma Kocher said her brother was the “shining light” of their family. Picture: Alle McMahon

The family is now pushing for a new law - dubbed Owen's Law - which would require restaurants in the UK to display "clear allergen information on each individual dish on their menus".

"It is simply not good enough to have a policy which relies on verbal communication between the customer and their server … this leaves far too much room for error on an issue we know all too well can cost lives," Ms Kocher said.

But lawyers for Byron suggested that could give customers a false sense of security and stop them flagging their allergies verbally with staff - something that needs to happen in order for kitchen staff to be informed and proper processes to be carried out.

Byron technical manager Aimee Leitner-Hopps said staff were now trained to ask customers directly if they had any allergies or dietary requirements.

"We take allergies extremely seriously and have robust procedures in place," CEO Simon Wilkinson said.

'REMARKABLE PARALLELS' WITH PRET DEATH

The case has touched a nerve in the UK, where another teenager died from eating a baguette containing sesame from Pret a Manger at Heathrow Airport.

Fifteen-year old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse collapsed on-board a flight to Nice in 2016 despite her father administering two EpiPen injections.

It's believed that sesame was baked into the artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette she'd eaten.

RELATED: Peanut allergy treatment could be just around the corner

Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after eating an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from Pret a Manger. Picture: Supplied
Natasha Ednan-Laperouse died after eating an artichoke, olive and tapenade baguette from Pret a Manger. Picture: Supplied

Natasha's parents, Nadim and Tanya Laperouse, both attended the inquest into Owen Carey's death.

"Our hearts go out to Owen's family, who will always carry their terrible grief knowing (his) death was so preventable," they said in a statement.

"Having attended the inquest over the last two days, we have heard remarkable parallels between Owen and Natasha's death. Both died because of the failure of the food providers to list allergens - in Natasha's case in pre-packaged food, in Owen's on restaurant menus.

"Owen's death yet again highlights the inadequacy of food information in this country."

Following Natasha's death, a new law was introduced in the UK requiring food businesses to include full lists of ingredients on packaged foods, including food made onsite. Previously any food prepared on the premises was not required to display allergen information in writing.

WHAT ARE THE LAWS IN AUSTRALIA?

In Australia, packaged foods must state on the label whether they contains peanuts, tree nuts, milk, sesame seeds, fish, crustacea, soy, lupin or wheat - the nine most common allergens.

If the food is not packaged - for example sold fresh in a deli or bakery - the information must be displayed next to the food or provided to the customer if they ask.

About 10 per cent of infants, four to eight per cent of children and two per cent of adults suffer from food allergies in Australia and New Zealand, according to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).

The top tips for eating out with food allergies, according to Allergy & Anaphylaxis Australia, include reading the menu carefully, asking questions and always disclosing your food allergy before ordering.

"Do not ask for a guarantee. Risk can be reduced, but it can never be removed," it says.

Owen bought the skinny grilled chicken from Byron at Greenwich. Picture: Aaron Chown
Owen bought the skinny grilled chicken from Byron at Greenwich. Picture: Aaron Chown
Pret a Manger said it was “deeply saddened” to hear of the death.
Pret a Manger said it was “deeply saddened” to hear of the death.

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