In what is considered to be a landmark case, the owner of an Indian restaurant in Easingwold, North Yorkshire has been sentenced to six years imprisonment for the death of an allergic customer who was served a takeaway curry containing peanut powder.
Significant financial strain
52-year-old Mohammed Zaman was convicted of manslaughter after the Teesside Crown Court found that he had deliberately replaced the almond powder usually added to chicken tikka masala with a cheaper mixed nut powder containing peanuts, BBC News reports.
It is believed that Zaman, whose business was under significant financial strain, switched the regular nut powder for a cheaper alternative in an attempt to cut costs.
In 2014, 38-year-old barman Paul Wilson was found dead in his bathroom, having suffered severe anaphylactic shock after eating the curry from Zaman’s restaurant, the Indian Garden.
Wilson, who had known about his severe peanut allergy from the age of seven, made a point to order his curry with “no nuts” – a request that was acknowledged in writing on his takeaway carton.
Just three weeks earlier, Zaman had found himself in hot water after a teenage customer at one of his other restaurants was hospitalised for a severe allergic reaction to his meal, The Independent explains.
Zaman pleaded not guilty, stating that the decision to substitute the nut powders was taken by his managers. He was however, found guilty of manslaughter by gross negligence and six other food safety offences.
In a news release published by the North Yorkshire Police, Detective Inspector Shaun Page commented on the importance of the case:
"This has been a unique and challenging investigation which identified witnesses across the UK. A key factor has been the joint working with colleagues from Trading Standards and the Crown Prosecution Service to secure charges.
"Paul's death was avoidable and the outcome of this case sends a clear message to those who operate similar businesses that if they choose to operate in such a grossly negligent way, they are liable to prosecution as well as having to live with the potential deadly consequences."
Food allergies and the law
It is estimated that 10% of the world's population suffers from a food allergy. An allergy to nuts is among the most common and is considered by the Consumer Protection Act to be a high-risk hazard, Eldin Food Consulting explains in an online presentation.
It is estimated that almost half of all allergy-related deaths in the USA are linked to food provided by restaurants and similar food service providers.
South African legislation requires all food service providers to warn consumers of any foods that contain or could possibly contain both common and/or uncommon allergens.
The Restaurant Association of South Africa and the Office of the Consumer Protector did not respond to requests for comment.