Allergen Alert

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January delivered the tragic news of the death of Megan Lee, 15, who died on New Year’s Day after eating a takeaway curry from an Indian takeaway in Lancashire.

The owners of the establishment were arrested on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter due to gross negligence. Megan died of a cardiac arrest following anaphylactic shock, shortly after eating the dish from the restaurant. It is likely that the cause of the shock was a reaction to peanuts.

In this case, the restaurant was also infested with mice. So it seems that there was a considerable number of failings by those in charge as regards food safety. The culmination of this, it is alleged, resulted in Megan’s death.

It may be that in this case, adequate information was provided to Megan. The trial of the owners will shed more light on this. It can be compared and contrasted with the case of Paul Wilson, 38, who suffered a peanut allergy after eating a curry made with peanuts, which should have been made with almonds. Allergy to peanuts is a specific and sometimes discrete allergy and the regulations on food information require peanuts to be specifically pointed out to customers if they are contained or could be in the products they are eating. The owners of the restaurant that Mr Wilson visited had not provided this information, and therefore had not complied with the law on food information. Worse, Mr Wilson had specifically asked for a curry that was nut free, knowing that he had a nut allergy. The restaurant owner was convicted of Mr Wilson’s manslaughter and was jailed for 6 years.

This may have been avoided in a number of ways but key to this for food business operators is the need to recognise the purpose of food safety and allergen labelling legislation. Awareness by those delivering the product of the need to inform consumers about allergens that are known to be or could potentially be present in their product is essential. Delivery of this information varies depending on the type of product and the context in which it is sold but being clear about your responsibilities will help to achieve the goal of this regulation – to reduce deaths like Megan’s and Paul’s.


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