A Wigan boy of 12 died after suffering a severe allergic reaction to peanuts in a curry – that takeaway staff had promised him was nut-free.
Connor Donaldson, from Tyldesley, began to struggled to breath after eating the Prawn Balti and suffered a devastating asthma attack.
He went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to hospital but died a short time later.
Inquiries revealed the Tyldesley Tandoori takeaway near Connor’s home was using the same ladles and spoons for food both ‘free from’ and ‘containing nuts’.
The curry also contained a Balti paste which contained traces of nut and the takeaway itself was found to be using almond powder which contained 50% peanut powder as suppliers sought to supplement the ingredient with a cheaper nut.
At an inquest a coroner warned all allergy sufferers to the dangers of eating at any takeaway – especially Indian cuisine – as there may be traces of nut in every meal.
The Bolton hearing was told how Connor, a year seven pupil at St Mary’s Catholic High School in Astley, was described by his family as ‘cheeky and funny’ and ‘full of life’.
The Manchester United fan was ‘football crazy’ and owned a bearded dragon named Sir Alex after Sir Alex Ferguson.
His mother Sarah told the Bolton hearing: “From an early age I was diagnosed with asthma, hayfever, eczema and a nut allergy. Connor was never diagnosed with a nut allergy but he was with the other three.
”As he had three of the four conditions I had I took it as read he would have a nut allergy and I treated him accordingly.
“I was always careful to ensure he never came into contact with any food with nuts in. He never had Chinese food and would not eat any sweets or confectionary which may contain nuts.
”From an early age he was self-disciplining and made sure he didn’t eat those products. Apart from a broken leg when he was nine he was happy and healthy although he would sometimes suffer from his asthma when he played football.
“They would stop the game so he could use his inhaler then start it up again.”
On the day of the tragedy on October 19 last year Connor had scored the winning goal in a youth football match before going shopping with a friend. That evening at around 7pm Connor and his family settled down to watch the X-Factor and his mother suggested they get an Indian takeaway.
Mrs Donaldson said the takeaway was ordered over the phone but she and Connor ate a different dish to the rest of the family because of their nut allergies.
She added: “The gentleman I spoke to on the phone spoke perfect English. We discussed that my meal couldn’t contain nuts. He assured me my meal wouldn’t contain nuts. Connor and I do not eat korma or tikka because it has nuts.
”Connor didn’t have a lot to eat – possibly only a couple of mouthfuls because it tasted funny. Within seconds I felt as though I couldn’t breathe. I took a few breaths from my inhaler and went to the front door for some fresh air.
“I came back and sat down next to Connor and he tapped me on the leg and said ‘I can’t breathe’. I got his inhaler and he took ten breaths from it. The inhaler had no effect and I could tell it wasn’t going well so I straight away rang 999.
”I was comforting Connor and he slumped down and I was on the phone to the ambulance who were telling me what to do. I had already started doing CPR.”
When paramedics arrived, Connor’s condition had already deteriorated so quickly that there was no time for him to be put on a stretcher and he was carried by hand into the ambulance.
They worked on him for 20 minutes before he was taken to Royal Bolton Hospital and treated for a further 40 minutes where he was then pronounced dead.
Tests confirmed that Connor suffered from a severe peanut allergy – however he had only avoided the food on advice from his mother rather than seeking a professional opinion.
Minhaz Ahmed, the owner of the Tyldesley Takeaway, said he was satisfied serving a Balti to someone with an allergy at the time – but has now realised the potentially devastating effects of cross-contamination.
He maintained that woks and spoons were always clean and added: “I would be ok with someone having a Balti with allergies. I had been aware of the risk of cross contamination.
”I know even the slightest thing can do something to another curry so we always make sure spoons and woks are clean.
”Not just for allergies but also for flavour. As far as I am concerned the same utensil should not be used in my premises if it will be used for another sauce.
“We do use Patak’s Balti sauce. It says it may contain traces of nuts. On the new menu I have said that all dishes may contain nuts. I will recommend customers not to have a Balti but I can’t say whether or whether it doesn’t contain nuts.
“There is a risk. No matter how careful you are there is a risk. There has to be. Business owners need to know because we don’t want this to happen again.”
But Varsha Patel, an environmental health officer from Wigan Council, said an inspection of the premises found staff at the takeaway had a poor knowledge of ‘cross contamination’ of foods and were using the same spoons to decant different sauces.
The chef was unaware Patak’s sauces had an advisory label for allergy sufferers.
Miss Patel said: “We didn’t notice any actual peanuts being used. The Patak’s paste was the only product being used which may contain traces of nuts. Apart from that there was almond powder and coconut flakes. The powder was being decanted into a drum which can lead to further contamination.
“Almond powder can contain peanuts because they are cheaper. We did some research into almond powder and there has been an adulteration with high percentages of peanut powder being used to bulk it up because it is cheaper.
“The almond powder contained at least 50% peanut powder. We need to go back to the wholesaler to investigate further.”
Dr Chris Moulton of Royal Bolton Hospital said: “There are more things in Indian food than nuts capable of causing allergies. I think in this very sad incident the allergy was too overwhelming and too sudden.”
The inquest heard that Connor had previously had one reaction to Chinese food, which could have been due to a nut allergy, but it did not warrant significant attention.
The medical cause of Connor’s death was given as an acute asthma attack due to an anaphylactic reaction to food containing peanuts.
Dr Vibha Sharma, an allergy expert at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital added: “If you are eating out in these restaurants or getting takeaways then the people providing the food need to understand you have an allergy but it is still a big risk.
“If due care is not taken then one would expect serious contamination.”
Reaching a conclusion of accidental death, Bolton coroner Mrs Jennifer Leeming said the public need to be aware of the risk that in food outlets where nuts are used there is a high likelihood of cross contamination.
She added: “Even that small amount caused by cross contamination can be dangerous to a person with a nut allergy.
“I don’t think the message is sufficiently out there that not only do you need to avoid food with nuts in them but you need to be careful about eating food from premises where nuts are used with any food stuff. Even a small amount from cross contamination can be fatal.
“What we didn’t know until the evidence of today is the risk presented by cross contamination in premises where food is sold unsealed. That would include restaurants and takeaways and cafes.
”A very small amount of allergen might be all that is required for a tragedy such as this. Depending on the individual cross contamination might be enough to result in this sort of desperate, desperate tragedy.
“I offer my sincere condolences. I am so glad he got to have that football game and scored the winning goal.”
Currently, around 10 people per year die from food-related anaphylactic shock and allergic reactions in the UK.
Image courtesy of Herbrm, with thanks.