Last updated: 04.06.24

What is Owen’s Law?


 There is a range of food health and safety legislation affecting restaurants, cafes and other food vendors in the UK, which includes guidance and requirements for handling, serving and sharing information about food allergens. A recent addition to these allergen laws was Natasha’s Law, which changed the way that pre-packed-for-direct sale (PPDS) food products were labelled and sold.

Natasha’s Law was introduced after a fifteen-year-old girl named Natasha died in 2016 after eating a product containing sesame seeds because she wasn’t aware that they were an ingredient. Her family campaigned to improve the way that PPDS products were labelled by retailers and successfully changed the legal requirements for allergen labelling as a result.

Owen’s Law has a sadly similar backstory of a young person suffering a fatal allergic reaction after consuming something they were allergic to that hadn’t been correctly signposted as containing allergens. Whilst this law hasn’t yet been passed, recent support from the FSA means that it is becoming increasingly likely that changes may be made to allergen laws again in the next few years, which food businesses should be aware of. 

In this article, we explain the story behind Owen’s Law, the changes that it would make, and how food businesses can prepare.

Who is Owen Carey?

Owen Carey was an eighteen-year-old boy who passed away after suffering a massive anaphylactic reaction in London in 2017. After suffering from multiple food allergies throughout his life, Owen had asked and been assured that the food he ordered in a restaurant was safe for him to eat.

However, neither the menu nor the server notified Owen that the plain chicken burger he ordered had been marinated in buttermilk, which he was allergic to. Around 45 minutes later Owen suffered a serious allergic reaction and collapsed, and despite the efforts of medical staff to resuscitate him, he died as a result of consuming an ingredient he was allergic to.

What is Owen’s Law?

After his death, Owen’s family began campaigning to improve how allergen information is shared and displayed to customers in the catering and hospitality industry, to prevent future deaths like Owen’s which should have been avoided. 

Because dairy, one of the allergens that Owen was allergic to, was not listed as an allergen on the menu and not shared with the family by the server, Owen believed the food he ordered to be safe to eat and died as a consequence. Owen’s Law seeks to reduce the likelihood that this will happen to other people with allergies and food hypersensitivities.

The Carey family have been campaigning for allergen labelling laws to change since Owen’s death, with several key suggestions as part of this.

Legislation Changes

Whilst current guidance advises restaurants to feature allergens on their menus for different dishes, it is not currently a legal requirement for them to do so. Therefore, one of the key changes that Owen’s Law is proposing is that restaurants include appropriate and accurate information about allergens in writing at the point of ordering. This means that it isn’t the sole responsibility of the customer to ask, and also means they don’t have to rely on the server’s knowledge of allergens.

The proposed changes to legislation would also make it mandatory for allergens to be displayed in an allergen matrix for every dish on the menu. This matrix should then be accessible to every customer, either in print or online.

Guidance Changes

Another change that the campaign proposed is that official allergen awareness guidance should make it the responsibility of the restaurant to ask customers about allergies, instead of the customers being responsible for asking. This not only makes it easier for customers to discuss allergies and make the kitchen aware, but also emphasises that the restaurant has a responsibility to appropriately label allergens.

Industry Changes

From a hospitality and catering industry perspective, Owen’s Law seeks to improve the level of training that employees are given when they work in environments where allergens are present and served to customers. It would require that duty managers be given certified allergy and first aid training, ensuring that one senior member of staff was an allergen expert and could advise other servers.

Other suggestions from an industry standpoint include developing a food database to complement the existing allergen matrix and provide customers with more comprehensive information, along with a compatible smartphone app. The Carey family have also suggested the creation of an industry-approved ‘Allergen ID Card’ that includes a QR code with a person’s specific allergen information, so that hospitality staff can ensure they are correctly informed.

What Will Owen’s Law Change?

After campaigning for several years after their son’s death, a petition for further action around Owen’s Law was raised in Parliament in May 2023. In December 2023, Owen’s family met with the Food Standards Agency to explain their proposal and the FSA agreed that the changes laid out were necessary to improve food allergy laws. 

A short-term outcome of this endorsement from the FSA is that the organisation will look to produce guidance that strongly urges food businesses to provide written information about the allergens present in all of their dishes. As part of this guidance, there will be information on the best format and approach to sharing this with customers.

In the long-term, the FSA has agreed to consider changing current allergen labelling laws that will make this a mandatory requirement of all restaurants. Relevant government ministers have been contacted to put this into motion.

At present, businesses are required to provide mandatory allergy information at the point of sale, but this can be done verbally or in a written form. With the help of the Food Standards Agency, Owen’s Law would make it a legal requirement for any business serving fresh food to “label the fourteen regulated allergens on their menus with standardised symbols, numbers or words” and “provide a full breakdown of ingredients for each dish in an allergen matrix”.

Several official procedures will need to take place for Owen’s Law to become an official piece of legislation, likely as an amendment to existing food allergy laws. The FSA has committed to improving allergy guidance for restaurants and helping to make these new recommendations a legal requirement, but the timeline for these changes to take place hasn’t yet been outlined.

How to Prepare for Owen’s Law

For now, Owen’s Law has not been passed as an official allergy law and instead is still being developed by the FSA and the Carey family. However, official guidance on allergen labelling and communication from the FSA is likely to change following their commitment to the campaign, and if the law is passed then it will require changes from all food establishments serving fresh meals.

Anyone working in the hospitality and catering industry will already be following certain allergen laws and their recommendations, including procedures to avoid cross-contamination and labelling products containing allergens. If passed, Owen’s Law will build on these existing actions to place more responsibility on the food establishment and the server to ensure the correct information is given about all ingredients present in a dish.

Menu Information

One of the key ways in which Owen’s Law could affect restaurants is that it would require allergens in every dish to be printed on the menu, making it easier for customers to see what each option contains. This is currently not a requirement under allergen labelling laws, so would require businesses to reprint and update their menus.

You can start to prepare for this potential change by making sure you have up-to-date information about the allergens and potential allergens in each of your dishes, and even starting to display this on your menu. This upcoming change will be more challenging for restaurants that regularly change their menus or with suppliers who change the ingredients or manufacturing process of products that are regularly used.

Allergy Matrix

One way that businesses can keep track of the allergens in their dishes is through a chart known as an allergy matrix, which lists the fourteen main allergens and highlights whether they are present in different dishes. A key requirement of Owen’s Law would be that restaurants are required to provide this matrix for all customers so that there is no doubt about which ingredients were present or potentially present in each item on the menu.

Some restaurants may already be making use of an allergen matrix, so preparing for this potential change won’t require too much additional effort. If you’re not currently using an allergen matrix to keep track of the potentially hazardous ingredients in your products, they’re a very useful tool that can make it easier to avoid cross-contamination and demonstrate compliance with allergen laws. There’s a free FSA allergen matrix available online if you’re looking for a template.

Server Responsibility

Finally, the introduction of Owen’s Law would also put more responsibility on servers to ask customers whether they have any allergies and then provide them with the necessary information. At the moment, the onus is on the customer to tell their server that they have allergies and ask them for the information. If Owen’s law is passed, servers will be required to offer this allergen information themselves.

The best way to prepare for this change in guidance is through staff training which gives all your servers a scripted process to follow when speaking to customers and asking them about allergies. You may also need to provide more in-depth allergen awareness training for all your staff and provide specifics about what allergens are present in your dishes, which can be easily done with an online training course like Virtual College’s ‘Food Allergy Awareness Training Course’.


Who is responsible for carrying out food allergy laws?

Food business operators like restaurants, cafes and food trucks or stalls are all responsible for adhering to and carrying out the requirements of food allergy laws. They face serious consequences if they are found to be neglecting their legal responsibilities, and are required to follow guidance and share information as appropriate.

When should precautionary allergen labelling be used?

According to guidance from the FSA, precautionary allergen labelling about products which ‘may contain’ certain allergens should be used when there is a risk of cross-contamination somewhere in the supply chain that cannot be removed with risk management. This lets the customer know that whilst the product doesn’t purposefully contain an allergen, it may have come into contact with one.

Why do we have allergy laws?

Allergy laws have been implemented to protect people with allergies by making it a legal requirement for them to be informed about allergens present in the food they eat. Not only does this hold providers accountable for correctly labelling and advertising their products, but it also provides reassurance for people with allergies and allows them to buy food and eat out like everyone else without a high risk of coming into contact with an allergen.


The impact that Owen’s Law could have will be positive for anyone with an allergy and will also ultimately improve health and safety for restaurants, cafes and other food vendors. The best way to manage potential changes to legislation that will affect your business is to be aware of what will be required and start putting the work in early so that these changes can be seamlessly added to existing processes and appropriate training can be created and delivered to keep all staff compliant and informed.

If you’re looking for training resources that will ensure employees are aware of and prepared for managing customer allergies, our ‘Food Allergy Awareness and Level 2 Food Hygiene Training Package’ contains two courses that cover all the relevant topics to keep your business compliant.