Resort fined for girl's 'frightening' allergic reaction

·2-min read

A Queensland island resort has been fined $50,000 for its chef's "gross negligence" in causing a teenage girl's major allergic reaction by serving a cake containing almonds.

Aldesta Hotel Group, trading as Heron Island Resort, pleaded guilty in Brisbane Magistrates Court on Friday to falsely describing food for sale while it ought to have known that a consumer who relied on the description would likely suffer physical harm.

A 15-year-old girl and her mother were visiting the resort on the Great Barrier Reef.

While dining at the resort, the girl requested a nut-free dessert due to her allergies but the chef used a pre-packaged gluten-free raspberry cake as part of the dish despite a warning label that it contained almonds and possibly traces of other nuts.

Solicitor Jessica Bland, who represented Queensland Health, said the girl sampled the dessert and developed a swollen tongue, lips and face as well as flushed cheeks and tightened throat.

The girl's mother treated her with an antihistamine and an adrenaline injection, and she attended the resort's medical centre.

"The nurse telephoned a doctor, who prescribed an oral steroid because of the girl's symptoms which appeared to be the onset of a major allergic reaction with a high possibility of progressing to anaphylactic shock (a severe and potentially fatal allergic reaction)," Ms Bland said.

The medication was able to ease the girl's allergic reaction but she suffered from facial swelling and hives for a number of hours.

Ms Bland said the incident was extremely serious as Heron Island was a remote location only accessible by boat and helicopter, guests had no other choice but to eat at the resort.

The maximum fine for a corporation selling falsely described food is more than $689,000 and Ms Bland called for Aldesta to be fined between $50,000 and $60,000

Barrister Daniel Caruana, representing Aldesta, said the company should be fined between $40,000 and $50,000 given its guilty plea, lack of prior convictions, written apology and significant steps taken to improve staff training on food allergies.

Mr Caruana said the resort had been prepared for guest emergencies via its 24-hour medical centre.

"It comes down to human error ... the ingredients were clearly labelled. The company does not shirk its responsibility but that is highly relevant," Mr Caruana said.

Magistrate Andrew Moloney said he could infer that the chef either did not read the cake's label or did not understand the dessert order.

"He was grossly negligent," Mr Maloney said.

He said the harm suffered by the girl during the allergic reaction would have been "quite frightening" but the offending was the result of "blatant human error" at a resort with ad hoc food safety training.

Aldesta, which operates three resorts in Canada and two on the Great Barrier Reef, was fined $50,000 and ordered to pay $1600 in costs, with no conviction recorded.