‘Pizza restaurant meal mix-up could have cost us our son’s life’ - Court told life of toddler with severe dairy allergy was put on the line after waiter’s blunder
A Pizza Hut waiter put the life of a two-year-old boy on the line when he ordered him a meal he was allergic to.
James Butterworth, 32, of Lauderdale Avenue ordered a non-vegan pizza for Zayaan Hussain, who has a dairy allergy, while working at the food giant’s restaurant in Church Street in Blackpool town centre.
The lad’s parents, Sajid and Samia Hussain, had informed Butterworth of their son’s allergy as they entered the restaurant, and were reassured that vegan options were available.
But Butterworth made a potentially deadly mistake by accidentally asking chefs for a vegetarian dish instead.
He later corrected the order – but only after little Zayaan had already tucked in. Zayaan was rushed to hospital struggling to breathe.
Butterworth admitted his mistake in Blackpool Magistrates’ Court and, at his sentencing on Thursday, District Judge Jane Goodwin heard how Zayaan fell seriously ill within minutes of taking just a few bites of cheese pizza last April.
Lynda Bennett, representing Blackpool Council, said: “After just a few bites the child started looking tired, itching his eyes and generally wanting his mum, which were signs that something was not quite right. He then started to break into hives.”
The food had been delivered to the family’s table by a manager while Mrs Hussain and her two children were in the bathroom.
When they returned, they checked to make sure Zayaan’s food was definitely dairy-free and were told by the manager it was, though she did not go back to the kitchen to check, the court was told.
The manager, Jade Begg, disputed this.
At around 2.30pm, shortly after receiving their food, Mr and Mrs Hussain told Butterworth that a portion of chips was missing from their order, and he added them to the Pizza Hut system.
At the same time, he changed Zayaan’s order from a vegetarian pizza to a vegan one.
Ms Bennett said: “At no point did he warn the family.”
She said Butterworth was fully aware of the implications of Zayaan’s allergy, as the meal the family ordered for him came with a portion of ice cream, and he offered them an ice lolly instead.
He pleaded guilty to breaching section 14 of the Food Safety Act 1990: selling food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser.
Gerry Coyle, defending, said Butterworth had only just returned to work after a six-day absence due to his anxiety, and had asked to be put on cleaning duty.
However, he was moved to dealing with customers at around 1pm.
He said: “When the child was unwell, the first person who phoned the emergency services was Mr Butterworth.
“It’s a very sad case, and the first thing Mr Butterworth and his family ask me to say is that they extend their apologies to the Hussain family for what would have been a traumatic day out in Blackpool, which was completely ruined and nearly had devastating consequences.”
He added: “It’s human error, rather than anything deliberate, and he accepted his responsibility.”
The court heard how Butterworth, who was sacked for gross misconduct following the incident, had dyslexia, and told Blackpool Council during an interview that he had failed his training with Pizza Hut twice before.
He said he only passed when a manager sat beside him during the test and provided him with the answers.
However, Mr Coyle said Pizza Hut denied this and there was no record of any failed exams in the company.
Judge Goodwin said: “When questioned about this matter, you fully admitted your part. It appears to me that this is a very sorry and sad incident in which you returned to work when you didn’t feel fully fit, but felt, as many people often do, that you ought to return out of a sense of duty.
“I’m satisfied that the (process) between taking an order requesting a vegan pizza and tranferring that onto the system as a vegetarian one was nothing more than human error, but it was a human error that cost the family greatly.
“Zayaan was very quickly taken ill and ended up in the hospital overnight, having had two Epipens, steroids and oxygen administered.
“I think we can all be thankful that it wasn’t worse.
“You did amend the system to reflect the vegan order when you realised your mistake, but unfortunately that was too late, and you didn’t notify the family to advise them of the mistake you had made.”
Butterworth was given a £290 fine and ordered to pay a £30 victims’ surcharge and £800 in court costs..
The court heard that Zayaan Hussain’s family had not sought any compensation from Butterworth.
However, he was ordered to pay them £800.
Speaking to The Gazette shortly after the incident, Zayaan’s father Sajid said the mix-up could have cost his son his life.
The two-year-old began vomiting and struggling to breathe, and had to be rushed to Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
Sajid said he told staff at the restaurant about his son’s allergy and asked them four times about possible cross-contamination, but was reassured that the pizza given to his son was completely safe.
He said: “Even when we received the pizza, I wouldn’t let him eat it before re-confirming that it was definitely dairy-free. They said it was, so he ate the pizza.
“Ten minutes went by and he just started shutting down. He wasn’t responding to me or my wife. Something wasn’t right.”
Suspecting an allergic reaction, Sajid and wife Samia gave Zayaan his inhaler and a dose of Piriton and called for an ambulance.
Sajid said: “While I was on the phone he was violently sick everywhere. The paramedics arrived and his oxygen levels were really low.
“It actually got worse as we got to the hospital. There were talks of him having to be resuscitated. Luckily my wife had the Epipens with her.”
The family, including then-seven-year-old Amara, were holidaying in the resort but spent two days in hospital.
Sajid, a businessman from Shipley, Bradford, said: “It was absolutely horrific. We could have lost our son that day.
”There are no words to truly describe what we were thinking. It was a very, very traumatic experience and not one I would ever want to go through again.”
He added: “The last thing I want is for someone else to be in that sort of situation. We managed to save our son, but other people might not be so lucky.
“If we hadn’t seen that something wasn’t quite right and didn’t call an ambulance when we did, who knows where we would be now.”
A Pizza Hut spokesman said: “We are in contact with the family involved and are very sorry for what happened.
“We realise it was an unacceptable situation and have already completed an internal investigation with the Hut, which found that the wrong pizza was given to the family as a result of human error.
“We will share the full investigation findings with the Hussain family and are taking appropriate action at this restaurant to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
This is what Blackpool Council said...
Councillor Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of Blackpool Council, said: “It is so important that anyone manufacturing, cooking or serving food adheres the strict guidelines surrounding the use of allergens. The slightest mistake can have tragic consequences.
“Thankfully the young boy in this case recovered but it could have been so much worse. His poor family must have been terrified and I’m sure it will have a lasting impact on them.
“I’m glad that Mr Butterworth pleaded guilty and took responsibility for his actions. I hope this serves a lesson to others about how careful they need to be.”
Dairy allergies can be life-threatening
Between two and three per cent of children under three-years-old are believed to be allergic to milk.
Symptoms of a milk allergy include breaking out in hives, an upset stomach, vomiting, bloody stools, and anaphylactic shock shortly after consuming dairy products. Avoiding dairy products is the only way to safely manage a milk allergy.
A milk allergy should not be confused with lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is a common digestive problem where a person is unable to break down natural sugar (lactose) found in dairy products.
Symptoms include wind, bloating, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and feeling sick.
Contrastingly, people with a milk or dairy allergy experience much more serious symptoms because their immune system reacts as though the products are dangerous invaders.
This can be life-threatening.
In June 2017, a 13-year-old west London schoolboy, Karanbir Cheema, suffered a severe allergic reaction and died when another pupil threw a piece of cheese at him.