news

Mother with coeliac disease claims Frankie & Benny's said she could not have anything on menu despite UK accreditation

The mother claimed she was told she couldn't eat anything - despite a promise on the menu that the restaurant adheres to strict dietary guidelines

A woman with coeliac disease claims she was told she could not eat at a Harrow restaurant as "flour is thrown around the kitchen" - despite having gluten free catering accreditation.

Caren Duhig had hoped to treat her ten-year-old daughter to a meal at Frankie & Benny's, in St George's Shopping Centre, on Sunday (September 3).

But the 33-year-old claimed she was told by a member of staff that the branch cannot guarantee that any of the food was safe for her to eat.

Mum Caren had hoped to take daughter Cassie, 10, for a meal as a treat(Image: Caren Duhig)

Caren told getwestlondon: "My daughter ordered first from the children's menu and I asked to see the gluten free menu.

"The person who served us says they can't guarantee it's 100% gluten free so I asked to speak to the manager."

The chain restaurant is "audited against the Coeliac standard"(Image: Daily Record)

The mum-of-one was diagnosed in October 2015 with coeliac's disease at St Mark's Hospital, and has since stuck to a strict gluten and wheat free diet.

She claimed: "The manager came and said that they cannot guarantee the food is gluten free as 'flour is thrown all around the kitchen'.

"I was shocked. I didn't expect him to say something like that.

"I can't even eat a few crumbs. I can't go anywhere that may cross contaminate my food. It was supposed to be a nice end of the day together.

"If I'd have eaten something I'd have been in trouble."

Harrow's Frankie & Benny's is situated in St George's shopping Centre

The chain restaurant has Coeliac UK accreditation, which hopes to give those with the disease assurance that they can eat safe gluten-free options - and avoid severe pain by eating wheat or gluten.

Coeliac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disease, with symptoms including bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, constipation, tiredness, sudden or unexpected weight loss, hair loss and anaemia.

Once diagnosed, it is treated by following a strict gluten free diet for life, because when someone with the disease eats gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging the lining of the small intestine.

Caren said: "It should be a safe place to eat. I don't think they should have the accreditation.

"It really upset me, I just wanted something nice to eat with my daughter on her last day before term starts.

"We left immediately but I'm worried that other customers who suffer from the disease might eat food from the gluten free menu, thinking it's safe as they are Coeliac UK accredited, without asking the questions which I asked.

"We ended up going to Prezzo upstairs in the end.

"I told the staff there what had happened and they were really helpful and understanding. It made a bad situation better.

"There's so much ignorance about what being a coeliac means and gluten free food.

"I suffer from vitamin D deficiency and osteoporosis as a result, and it can even lead to cancer.

"There's got to be a way to raise awareness, it's not a fashion trend and a lot of people are affected."

Mum Caren has now made a complaint to Coeliac UK to have the accreditation investigated(Image: Caren Duhig)

Caren has made a formal complaint to the charity Coeliac UK, to inform them of the incident and plea for the accreditation of Frankie & Benny's in Harrow to be reviewed.

James Garman, Coeliac UK director of commercial services, said: "We’re very concerned to hear that one of the Coeliac UK accredited venues has provided this information to a customer.

"We take complaints about accredited venues very seriously and will be contacting Frankie & Benny’s about this issue as a matter of urgency as per our complaints policy.

"The GF accreditation scheme requires caterers to comply with the gluten free standard, developed for the catering industry to cover a range of important areas, including knowledge of the law on gluten free, legislation around food labelling, storage and segregation, processes to control cross contamination during preparation, communication and training for staff.

"Training of staff is particularly important and a major part of becoming accredited is to ensure that a training programme is in place to ensure that all staff have good knowledge.

"All companies who are part of the scheme are required to successfully pass an annual audit to the scheme standard.

"We regularly review the performance of accredited venues, and carry out extra audits if required, including where a complaint has been made, to see if further training or other changes are required to ensure adherence to the scheme."

Frankie & Benny’s said it took food safety "extremely seriously".

A spokesman for the restaurant said: "Our websites detail the allergens present in all of our dishes.

"To ensure our restaurants cater to all diners, we are audited against the coeliac standard and our kitchens only use gluten-free flour when preparing fresh pizzas.

"All gluten-free orders are also prepared using separate, clean utensils to avoid potential cross-contamination."

Keep up to date with the latest news in west London via the free getwestlondon app.

You can set up your app to see all the latest news and events from your area, plus receive push notifications for breaking news.

Available to download from the App Store or Google Play for Android.

View full mobile page