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Family of teen who died after reaction to Byron burger call for law change

Owen Carey, 18, died after suffering a serious allergic reaction to a piece of chicken he ate at a restaurant in London  (Paul Carey)
Owen Carey, 18, died after suffering a serious allergic reaction to a piece of chicken he ate at a restaurant in London (Paul Carey)

The family of a teenager who died in London after an allergic reaction to a burger is calling for the law to be changed so restaurants must display allergens on menus.

Owen Carey fell ill as he walked by the London Eye with his girlfriend on April 22, 2017, during a trip to the capital to celebrate his 18th birthday.

He was given first aid by passers-by and was rushed to nearby St Thomas’ Hospital, but died less than an hour later.

For lunch that day Owen - who suffered multiple food allergies including to spices, peanuts, milk and wheat - had ordered a grilled chicken burger at a Byron Burger restaurant in Greenwich.

But despite assurances the burger would be ‘plain grilled’ it had been marinated in buttermilk, to which Owen was highly allergic.

Owen with his mum, brother and sister (Paul Carey)
Owen with his mum, brother and sister (Paul Carey)

A coroner at Owen’s inquest would later say: “[Owen] made serving 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.”

Owen normally carried an EpiPen to be used in the case of a severe reaction but had forgotten to take it with him that day. Through his and his family’s care, he had never suffered an anaphylactic reaction before.

“He only ate a small amount as he could tell immediately that something was wrong,” his family recall. “His breathing became more and more restricted and he was using his asthma inhaler constantly as he and his girlfriend journeyed to London’s South Bank for what was supposed to be the second half of Owen’s celebratory day.

“Forty-five minutes later, having arrived at the London Eye, Owen collapsed, having suffered a massive anaphylactic reaction. Paramedics and a team at St Thomas’ Hospital tried everything they could, but were unable to resuscitate him.”

Owen with his father, Paul Carey (Paul Carey)
Owen with his father, Paul Carey (Paul Carey)

The popular teen, who lived with his mother in Crowborough, Sussex, is remembered by his family as “truly wonderful” -

Owen was a keen guitarist, cyclist, climber and skier. A much-loved pupil at The Skinner’s School in Tunbridge Wells, he hoped to study Computer Science at university after completing his A-levels.

Paying tribute to him shortly after his death, his father Paul Carey said: “Owen was full of life and full of fun and he is going to be sorely missed by many people,.

“He was just a wonderful, bright boy who was going to do so much with his life and now he is gone.”

Owen’s family are now campaigning for a change in the law surrounding how allergy information is displayed to customers in UK restaurants.

“We simply want to see the allergens in a restaurant’s meals stated in writing on the face of the menu,” they told the Standard.

“We have seen examples of both small and larger restaurants already doing this, so we know it can be done; it is not rocket science.

“We hope that a simple change in labelling and staff training will prevent any future needless deaths of people with food allergies.”

Owen’s Law would build upon Natasha’s Law, which came into effect following the death of 15-year-old Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, from Fulham, who suffered anaphylaxis after eating a baguette which contained sesame seeds.

Natasha’s Law requires retailers to display full ingredient and allergy listings on all food made on premises and pre-packed for direct sale.

Owen was a talented climber, cyclist and skier (Paul Carey)
Owen was a talented climber, cyclist and skier (Paul Carey)

Owen’s Law strives to widen this to all food served at restaurants.

Owen’s family says the changes would be “of little cost, but immeasurable benefit to those whose lives are blighted by allergies and anaphylaxis.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, MP Steve Brine urged Rishi Sunak to meet with him and Owen’s family, “to see how we can be sure something positive comes out of this tragic loss of a young life”.

The Prime Minister pledged to make sure Mr Brine “gets a meeting with the relevant minister to discuss food labelling appropriately, so we can make sure that things like this don’t happen”.

Natasha Smith, deputy director of food policy at the Food Standards Agency, told the Standard in a statement: “The FSA has commissioned further research into the provision of allergen information, some of which has been completed, and we must review the results before any decisions on next steps are made.

“The body of evidence that has emerged from the FSA’s research so far is complex and does not indicate one ‘right approach’ that will work for all.”