On April 22, 2017, Owen Carey, a young man from Crowborough, East Sussex, had just turned 18 and was celebrating in London.
He had stopped at a Byron Burger outlet for something to eat along the way where Owen, always conscious of his allergies to peanuts, milk, wheat, and various spices, opted for plain grilled chicken.
While passing by the London Eye, the teenager collapsed, suffering anaphylactic shock, and was treated by paramedics on the scene. He was pronounced dead 45 minutes later at 4PM at St Thomas Hospital.
Owen, who often carried an epinephrine auto-injector with him, had forgotten it at home that day.
Although the chicken was grilled and served plain, it had been marinated in buttermilk to which Owen was severely allergic.
Two years later at an inquest, a written statement by assistant coroner Briony Ballard left no doubt as to the cause of Owen’s death:
The deceased died from a severe food-induced anaphylactic reaction from food eaten and ordered at a restaurant despite making staff aware of his allergies.
The menu was reassuring in that it made no reference to any marinade or potential allergenic ingredient in the food selected.
The deceased was not informed that there were allergens in the order.
In 2021, Paul Carey, Owen’s Father, established a foundation in memory of his son. He recently spoke to MyLondon about changes that must be made to protect others and to spread awareness of food allergies and anaphylaxis:
Owen was my youngest son. He was allergic to a lot of things and we were always very careful. He never had to use an EpiPen. He was out celebrating his 18th birthday and was with his elder brother and brother-in-law.
He made it very clear to the waiter about his allergies. The menu indicated that the chicken was ‘plain-grilled’ and he was assured by the waiter that the burger was safe. But it wasn’t. He had an anaphylactic reaction and died in front of the London Eye.
That was in April 2017. We launched our campaign in April 2021 and our mission is to make it law that restaurants have to provide information about their allergens in writing on the menu. This allows the benefit for the customer to make a decision without having to ask the waiter.
This simple change would also eliminate the risk that exists during the order when a waiter does not fully understand or is not trained enough to process, or simply ignores the customer’s concerns about allergens in each dish.
We also want it to be an obligation for waiting staff to ask customers if they have any allergies. It doesn’t have to be the case sometimes, as we want to make sure that the consumer makes their decision in private.
There is a law in the Republic of Ireland that says restaurants have to provide information on allergens in writing without the customer having to ask. That’s what we want.
On May 15, 2023 — six years following Owen’s death — Owen’s Law was debated in parliament and Owen’s family has since secured a meeting with the Minister of Health and Social Care on June 6.
We at SnackSafely.com fully support Owen’s Law and believe similar legislation should be adopted everywhere to help protect the food allergy community.
We do want to correct one assertion Mr Carey made above that: “This simple change would also eliminate the risk that exists during the order when a waiter does not fully understand or is not trained enough to process, or simply ignores the customer’s concerns about allergens in each dish.”
While Owen’s Law would do much to inform and thus help protect people with food allergies, no legislation can eliminate the risk. There will always be an opportunity for human error in the preparation of food, such as the introduction of an allergen via cross-contact from a contaminated surface or implement.
That’s why we urge individuals with food allergies to first discuss their meal preparation with management and waitstaff and to leave the establishment if they are not fully confident that their allergy can be safely accommodated.
And please remember to always take 2 epinephrine auto-injectors along everywhere, every time. If you should accidentally find yourself without them, don’t eat until you can retrieve them.
We wish Mr Carey much success in his efforts to have Owen’s Law enacted.