A British teenager has died from an allergic reaction in Mexico after eating a vegetarian burrito which contained sesame despite warning restaurant staff of his condition.
Joe Dobson, 19, from London, asked staff multiple times in Spanish and English to make sure there was no sesame in the food, South London Coroner’s Court heard.
Friends claimed that after just three bites, Joe knew there was sesame in his meal but said restaurant staff didn’t seem concerned about his allergy and wouldn’t call an ambulance.
On November 1 last year, Joe, who was with friends in the seaside resort town of Playa del Carmen in Quintana Roo, had left his EpiPen at their apartment but by the time they got back and used it was too late.
The 19-year-old became increasingly unable to breathe, slipping into unconsciousness before he died later in hospital.
It’s the latest in a string of allergy sufferers being killed by food that they have eaten as grief-stricken families campaign for more to be done.
The parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, 15, who died after eating a Pret a Manger baguette which contained sesame in 2016, have been campaigning ever since for stricter food safety laws.
They welcomed the introduction of ‘Natasha’s Law’ last year which require full ingredient and allergen labelling on food.
They said they were also right behind the family of mother-of five Celia Mash – who had an acute dairy allergy – after she similarly died from eating a Pret a Manger wrap that was contaminated with traces of milk in 2017.
Coroner Mark Taylor told the court last Wednesday that Joe was allergic to sesame, eggs, milk and peanuts.
He also described how staff did not understand the severity of the situation. ‘The staff told him to drink some honey and lemon liquid and he did so to keep them quiet it seems,’ he said.
In a statement read out by Mr. Taylor, Harriet Preston, a friend of Joe’s, said she had gone to visit him and they were sharing an Airbnb together.
She said: ‘I have known Joe for three years. He had never failed to celebrate my achievements with me, no matter how small. I was aware of his medical condition and that he carried medication with him. I was visiting him while he was working there.’
‘We had a normal day, chilling on the beach, going to town, looking around the shops. We decided to eat at a fusion restaurant where they had been before. Joe ordered a vegetarian burrito and said no sesame and used the Spanish word. After ordering, there was communication between them to ensure there was no sesame in his meal.’
‘When the food arrived, it was sent back as Joe believed it contained sesame.’
Joe had tried to communicate with staff in basic English that if he were to eat sesame he would die.
But Harriet added: ‘Joe’s meal arrived again and I watched him put his torch light over it. He took two bites and said no, that’s got it in it. He went over to the bar staff, they were in denial. He could feel it in his throat. He said he needed an ambulance but the staff were reluctant.’
‘The staff did not treat our situation like what it was. There was no basic first aid or knowledge.’
A second friend who was also there on the night, Ryan, said that Joe made his allergies clear to the staff at the restaurant and that they had eaten there before with no problems.
He told the court in a statement: ‘This time he noticed the burrito looked different. He sent it back but it looked no different. He repeated his allergies multiple times. He took one to three bites, he felt something was wrong. He let the group know.’
‘He did not have his EpiPen on him. He was becoming more urgent in his requests, had the honey drink. He went to the apartment to get his EpiPen. He ran to the taxi and the driver was very casual, walking slowly to the door. He did not understand the severity at all.’
‘This escalated by the time we got to the apartment. Joe went straight to the lifts. He fell over.’
‘I ran upstairs to get the pens, got them and ran back down. Joe had managed to crawl into the lift and come up to our floor so I dragged him out of the lift and got the pens out but the pens did not help him.’
The coroner described how after Joe had slipped into unconsciousness, a police car took him to the local hospital but doctors were unable to revive him and he died that evening.
Mr. Taylor said: ‘It seems there was a gap of 10-15 minutes before the pen could be used. I have no evidence to tell me whether it would have made any difference in terms of outcome.’
‘I suspect there are a good many factors to take into account, the amount of sesame and absorbtion factors. It seems very clear to me that Joe did all he reasonably could have done to warn the restaurant not to serve him food containing sesame and even checked himself.’
‘And it is very clear to me that it was the sesame in the food served by the restaurant that caused the allergic reaction.’
‘Joe acted unwittingly in eating the food with sesame which caused the fatal reaction. This should not have happened and to someone like Joe of his age.’