A British teen who died from anaphylactic shock while celebrating his birthday was told his dinner was dairy-free by restaurant employees, a coroner said Friday.
In 2017, Owen Carey was celebrating his 18th birthday at Byron, a U.K.-based burger chain, where he ordered a skinny grilled chicken burger. Carey warned restaurant staff about his severe dairy allergy and was reportedly assured that his meal would be safe to eat.
But the 18-year-old collapsed in his girlfriend's arms soon after dinner, and he died less than an hour after being taken to the hospital. Carey, who normally carried an EpiPen, had forgotten to bring it along that day.
It turned out the burger had been coated in buttermilk, a fact that was not noted on the menu or by the waitstaff.
"The deceased 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," coroner Briony Ballard concluded in a statement, which was read aloud in court Friday.
Paul Carey, Owen's father, told the BBC he felt the coroner's statement confirmed that his son had been clear about his dietary restrictions.
"We're very glad the coroner saw that and took it on board because it was important to us that Owen said what he said at the restaurant," Paul Carey told the BBC. "He knew exactly what he could and couldn't eat, and I think it's because we had drilled it into him from an early age."
The teen's family is now using the findings to call for a change in U.K. food policy. Speaking outside the Southwark Coroner's Court on Friday, many of his relatives challenged the government to improve its allergen-labeling guidelines.
"His death should not have happened," Emma Kocher, Carey's sister, said Friday. "It is not enough to have a policy which relies on verbal communication between the customer and their servant which often takes place in a busy, noisy restaurant."
Kocher said restaurants should be required to post allergen warnings next to any and all potentially harmful dishes, rather than trusting a policy that "relies on verbal communication."
"There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country who've got allergies who are very scared or their parents are terrified for them to eat out in restaurants because that is the key place where they are at risk," Moira Carey, Owen's, mother told the BBC.
Friday's announcement was also attended by the family of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, a 15-year-old who died from an allergic reaction after eating an unlabeled sandwich containing sesame seeds. That incident, which occurred in 2016, involved a sandwich order from the fast-casual chain Pret a Manger.