23-year-old James Atkinson and two roommates ordered three chicken tikka pizzas, fries, and a number of Indian dishes from the Dadyal restaurant in Newcastle, UK, in July 2020. They used the Deliveroo home delivery app to order food from the establishment where they had eaten before. Mr Atkinson had a severe peanut allergy.
Unaware the restaurant had swapped peanut flour for their usual almond flour, Mr Atkinson suffered the telltale symptoms of anaphylaxis a short time after and was taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, where he died. His parents did not arrive in time to see their son in his last moments.
An inquest was opened into the incident in May of 2022. That inquest has now concluded.
Coroner Karen Dilks issued her narrative at the Newcastle Civic Centre outlining how Mr Atkinson ordered his meal on the app, that he did not inform the restaurant of his allergy, and that he did not have an epinephrine auto-injector on hand when the symptoms of anaphylaxis manifested.
Testimony during the inquest indicated:
- The restaurant mentioned coconut, almond and cashew on their menu as ingredients of their chicken tikka masala but not peanuts;
- Deliveroo warned users to state any food allergies they had when ordering food which would be relayed to the restaurant, but Mr Atkinson failed to do so;
- He used Google to check if tikka masala contained peanuts according to his roommates;
- The restaurant manager insisted it was up to customers to inform staff if they had an allergy.
Mr Atkinson told his roommates that something was wrong with the pizza after taking his first mouthful. He called emergency services while they searched for his auto-injector to no avail.
The Dadyal restaurant has been closed for almost two years now.
Coroner Dilks indicated she would inform the Department of Health to urge general practitioners to regularly review patients who have allergies and educate them about the importance of carrying epinephrine auto-injectors.
She will also contact the relevant authorities in support of Owen’s Law which calls for restaurants to state in writing the allergens their dishes contain.
But she said she will not make recommendations to the three major food ordering apps, including Deliveroo, about how they could mitigate the risks for customers who may have a food allergy.
James Cooper, Deputy Director of Policy at the Food Standards Agency said:
We have now written to Ministers in England and Wales and the Permanent Secretary in Northern Ireland and we have contacted counterparts at Food Standards Scotland to discuss the Board’s position as the Board would like to see them take this forward on a four-country basis.
Meanwhile, we will provide guidance and support to business so that we can quickly start to make improvements that will be helpful for people with food hypersensitivities when they are eating out.
As we did when we first reported this story, we send our deepest condolences to the Atkinson family and hope the conclusion of the inquest brings them some measure of closure.
Looking back, there are many takeaways that should inform others in the food allergy community to help them avoid similar tragedies.
First and foremost, if you have been prescribed epinephrine, you should always have two on hand wherever you go and be sure to administer one when you first suspect anaphylaxis and call emergency services. Administer the second if your symptoms do not improve before help arrives.
Understand that restaurants change their recipes all the time, and those changes may not be reflected on the menu. Always discuss your allergies with management before ordering from an establishment, even if you have eaten there dozens of times before. If management cannot assure you you can be safely accommodated, leave.
We do not advocate ordering food via delivery apps because there is no accountability to ensure word of your allergies is received and understood by person responsible at the restaurant. Call the restaurant directly and speak to management and order directly with them rather than an intermediary.
We also advocate for regulations including Owen’s Law in the UK. Menus and takeout food should be labeled with ingredients and potential cross-contact warnings.