A Baked Alaska dessert wrongly sold as ‘egg-free’ sent a boy with a severe egg allergy into anaphylactic shock, a court has heard.
The 11-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was left choking for breath and suffering in agony after eating the dessert at Greene King pub, The Globe Inn, in Linslade, Bedfordshire last year.
On Friday, Bury St Edmunds-based pub giant Greene King - which runs 3,116 pub venues across 14 brands in the UK - pleaded guilty at Luton Magistrates Court to mis-selling the product and was fined £24,000.
Greene King’s defence issued an unreserved apology and told the court that the company’s procedures had been overhauled, with area chefs regularly visiting pubs to ensure they had the latest allergen sheets.
The company had also co-operated fully with the investigation launched by Central Bedfordshire Council and spent “considerable” sums of money improving its IT systems.
The modified Baked Alaska dessert had been introduced by the company in October 2015, however it wasn’t until a month later that the pub giant’s nutritionist discovered the recipe was no longer egg-free – with claims that the wrong information was given by the supplier.
Although an email was sent to a staff member requesting all pubs download a revised allergen sheet, the member of staff in question had departed the company that day.
Prosecutor Tom Horder said: “The boy told his mother he thought he was going to die.”
Mr Horder said the youngster had been enjoying Sunday lunch with his family and his parents chose a Greene King pub feeling confident the well-known chain catered for customers with allergies.
He said: “Given the knowledge of her son’s egg allergy, his mother was very conscious of what he ordered.
“There was no issue with the first course.
“When it came to pudding, a question was asked to a staff member, ‘what’s available for my son to eat?’
“The response was that in fact they’d recently had a customer with an egg allergy and there was a Baked Alaska that didn’t have any egg in it.
“This surprised the boy’s mother, as Baked Alaska normally contains meringue.”
Made popular on BBC’s Great British Bake-off, Baked Alaska is usually made up of ice-cream filled inside a meringue shell subtly burned with a blowtorch.
It has a reputation as one of the world’s toughest dessert recipes.
Mr Horder said The Globe Inn manager explained to the boy’s mother that their
Baked Alaska was made with marshmallow instead of meringue.
The woman then asked to see the pub’s allergen sheet which listed the dessert as egg-free although an investigation later found this sheet to be out-of-date.
The Baked Alaska recipe had been revised in October 2015 to include a sponge-cake base.
After seeing the sheet, the boy’s mother “tentatively” ordered it for him.
Mr Horder said: “She watched her son carefully. There was no obvious problem while he was eating but a little bit later he looked panicked and said something was stuck in his throat.
“She noticed his mouth was open and he went to the toilet and had diarrhea... he collapsed and his lips began to swell.”
The boy’s father stayed with him while his mother went to the kitchen to investigate.
The youngster was described as being very frightened, suffering agonizing stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting along with breathing problems.
On the way to hospital, his skin began to turn bright red. Once there, he was treated with antihistamines and steroids, and given gas.
The boy’s mother described him as “traumatised” in the aftermath of the incident and he spent the following week curled up in bed.
The defence added that around 2% of children suffer an egg allergy, and most grow out of it with just 0.01% of adults affected. Few allergic reactions require hospital treatment.
Passing sentence, District Judge Nicholas Leigh Smith said: “This Baked Alaska had previously been egg-free but the change was not effectively communicated.
“The system did not work, the information was not collected and the boy’s mother was given dangerously inaccurate information five months later.”
Greene King was fined £24,000 alongside a £120 victim surcharge.