A 14-year-old boy died after suffering an allergic reaction to popcorn he ate at a cinema, a coroner has ruled.
Ruben Bousquet was with his parents at the Odeon in Greenwich, south east London, on 18 April 2019, when he became unwell.
He was “exquisitely sensitive to food allergies” including cow’s milk, raw egg and soya, the inquest heard.
Coroner Andrew Harris said the popcorn had been cross-contaminated with milk, triggering Ruben’s fatal reaction.
On the evening Ruben fell ill his family rushed home to get his EpiPen, which he had left behind, but they were too late, the inquest heard.
Southwark Coroner’s Court was told Ruben had regularly visited the same IMAX cinema and had eaten the same brand of sweet popcorn before.
Mr Harris said the cinema’s food supplier Thomas Tucker Ltd had failed to carry out risk assessments when changing factory locations.
In September 2019 the company went into administration after the Food Standards Agency launched an allergy alert when it was revealed the firm’s popcorn products may have contained undeclared milk.
Odeon “terminated” its contract with Thomas Tucker Ltd in the same month, the court heard.
In his ruling, Mr Harris said he could not be sure whether the cross-contamination happened in the production process or at the kiosk where it was bought.
Ruben’s mum, Judith Bousquet, said the family were “disappointed” the coroner was unable to determine when the popcorn had been contaminated.
‘Irretrievable brain damage’
Mr Harris said: “He ate some sweet unpackaged popcorn purchased from a cinema in Greenwich and began to feel unwell.
“He was driven home to access his emergency treatment for anaphylaxis and became distressed about 15 minutes after consumption, about three minutes from home.
“Ruben then collapsed and was given adrenaline injections twice and effective CPR.”
Ruben was taken to Evelina Children’s Hospital and found to “have irretrievable brain damage”.
Mr Harris gave Ruben’s cause of death as “an acute anaphylaxis to cow’s milk allergen from cross contamination of popcorn”.
He added: “The popcorn manufactured and was free from milk protein but had become cross contaminated at some stage.
“Ruben was under the impression it was free of allergens and had he asked staff then that is what they would have believed too.”
Mr Harris said he will decide whether to make a report to prevent future deaths later this month.
1 in 4 people surveyed said they or a relative had a reaction eating out
8% of children affected by food allergies or intolerances
2% of adults
Speaking after the ruling, Mrs Bousquet said: “To not put food labels as an advisory for the public to make a choice would seem to put profit before consumers.
“Ruben was in that 1% bracket of being affected – are they waiting for another death to make any changes?”
Odeon said: “The popcorn ordered from our supplier, Thomas Tucker Ltd, was specified as ‘allergen-free’.
“Once we were informed in June 2019 that certain popcorn samples sourced from this supplier tested positive for milk proteins, we immediately opened an investigation and introduced additional allergen advice to all of our cinemas.
“We have confidence in the robust procedures we have in place concerning food safety and the sourcing of products, and our teams use careful processes to protect popcorn and all other products from cross contamination in our cinemas.”