Byron burger death: Doctor calls for better research into food allergies

Byron burger death: Doctor calls for better research into food allergies

A doctor has called for more research into fatal food allergies following the death of a teenager in England shortly after he ate a meal to celebrate his 18th birthday.

Owen Carey, who had a dairy allergy, suffered a fatal reaction on April 22, 2017, after consuming grilled chicken coated in a buttermilk at a Byron burger restaurant at the O2 Arena, in Greenwich, London.

An inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court today heard how Mr Carey, of Crowborough, East Sussex, did not realise the chicken had been marinated because the buttermilk ingredient was not listed on the menu.

He collapsed less than an hour after first experiencing an allergic reaction to his meal and was taken to hospital where he died.

Giving evidence, allergy specialist Dr Robert Boyle said the likely cause of death was an anaphylactic reaction to his food, specifically cow’s milk.

Dr Boyle, of St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, has now called for better understanding of fatal food anaphylaxis, which he said is responsible for around 150 deaths in the UK over the past 25 to 30 years.

He said: “Fatal food anaphylaxis is uncommon and it is very fast. Typically people die 30 to 40 minutes after they have eaten the food.

“It is poorly understood. We don’t fully understand why it happens so fast and why it typically affects adolescents and young adults.”

I don't think we are learning from it enough. I don't think it would be a big thing to set up a national register where we pull in this information

The inquest heard that Mr Carey, who suffered from asthma and various other food allergies, was not carrying his Epipen at the time.

But Dr Boyle said it was “unlikely”, based on available evidence, that an Epipen would have made a difference to the outcome.

Allergy specialist Dr Robert Boyle outside Southwark Coroner’s Court (Luke Powell/PA)
Allergy specialist Dr Robert Boyle outside Southwark Coroner’s Court (Luke Powell/PA)

Pathologist Andreas Marnerides gave the medical cause of death as asthma exacerbation caused by food-induced allergic reaction/anaphylaxis.

However, he said he would “not disagree” to putting food-induced allergic reaction as the primary cause.

In a statement, professor Gideon Lack, a consultant in allergy and immunology, said Mr Carey ate only half of his grilled chicken before he started to experience “lip tingling” and stomach problems.

He said the symptoms began at 2.45pm and Mr Carey collapsed at 3.40pm while walking with his girlfriend, having suffered with breathing difficulties.

Members of the public, including an RAF doctor, attempted to revive Mr Carey.

The inquest heard that when paramedics arrived, Mr Carey was “silent, not breathing and pulse-less”.

Owen Carey collapsed shortly after eating the chicken burger (Family handout/PA)
Owen Carey collapsed shortly after eating the chicken burger (Family handout/PA)

Earlier in the inquest, barrister Clodagh Bradley, who is representing Mr Carey’s family, argued the omission of buttermilk from Byron’s menu at the time could make a customer “believe” it was a plain chicken breast.

Aimee Leitner-Hopps, Byron’s technical manager who is responsible for ensuring teams are fully trained in food safety, said there were many component ingredients in dishes that were not elaborated on in the menu.

She said: “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.”

Ms Leitner-Hopps said staff are now trained to ask customers directly if they have any allergies or dietary requirements.

She said all staff at the time of Mr Carey’s death received online allergen training, along with on-site training.

The inquest, being heard by Coroner Briony Ballard, will conclude on Friday.

- Press Association

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