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  • Scott Adams
    Scott Adams

    Dear Subway: Please Share the Gluten-Free Oregon Love

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Photo: Scott Adams

    Celiac.com 08/14/2015 – Recently I took a last minute, end of Summer road trip with my family and on one of our pit stops I was delighted to discover the often rumored, highly elusive and possibly "Holy Grail" of gluten-free food: Subway's gluten-free sub rolls! Yes, I am here to tell you that they do indeed exist, even though I almost couldn't believe it even when I saw them—but there they were...a whole stack of six inch long gluten-free Subway rolls—sitting right in front of me in tidy, individually wrapped cellophane packages.

    Photo: Scott AdamsI had to rub my eyes and look twice to make sure that I wasn't dreaming because I, like many people, believed that Subway had discontinued them after a temporary Oregon-only trial run, and had decided against a permanent gluten-free roll out. Apparently though, in Oregon at least (and perhaps in other states?), they are still going strong many months after their rumored demise. To top this off, they even offered a gluten-free brownie for dessert!

    Rather than getting stuck with a chopped Subway salad again I was finally able to order a real submarine sandwich—just like everyone else. So, I immediately honed in on an old favorite and decided to try their Spicy Italian sub on a gluten-free roll. What...no bewildered look on their faces when I asked for gluten-free? They seemed to know exactly what I wanted, and the employee who prepared my sandwich seemed to follow a carefully prepared script—she first cleaned off the prep counter, then changed into a new pair of clean gloves, and finally pulled out a new, clean sheet of paper onto which she set the packaged roll. The roll was pre-cut, thus she didn't have to use the bread knife to cut it, which was likely contaminated. While making the sandwich I was offered the option of having it toasted (some sensitive celiacs may want to skip the toaster oven part), and I noticed that when she toasted mine she made sure that it went into the oven solo, so that it would not touch other sandwiches (it was also on its original sheet of clean paper when it went in).

    At this point you are probably wondering how it tasted, right? It was simply fantastic! Why can't other companies make gluten-free bread taste like this? It was soft, strong and slightly chewy. It wasn't at all dry, and seemed very fresh. My wife wanted me to ask them if they were sold separately so that I could take some home with me, which I didn't do, but you get the idea—they were really good and tasted very fresh.

    I was so excited about the prospect of being able to once again eat Subway sandwiches that I ended up stopping at Subway several times during our road trip.

    Each time I visited a Subway in Oregon I noticed that other people were also ordering or eating gluten-free subs, and in each case the staff seemed to follow their gluten-free script perfectly. It is difficult to estimate the exact ratio of gluten-free customers from such a small sampling, but it seemed to me that around 10-20% of total visitors ordered the gluten-free roll. Most companies would do almost anything to grow their business by 10-20%, but in this case the opposite could be the case—businesses should be willing to offer gluten-free options so they don't lose 10-20% of their business! I certainly hope that Subway's Oregon test bed is going well, and that Subway has learned that offering gluten-free sub rolls is great for business.

    And now for the $64,000 question: Will Subway roll out their gluten-free rolls to other states, and if so, when? It's time for Subway to share the gluten-free love beyond just Oregon! Of course with the P.F. Chang's litigation still ongoing, they are likely now in a holding pattern to see how that case turns out.

    Have you seen gluten-free Subway rolls outside of Oregon? Please let us know below.


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    Does the script include avoiding cross contamination from dipping into the "fixings" and putting them on gluten filled bread? Aren't the fixings then contaminated? Is there a separate area for fixings that have not been used to make non-gluten free subs? I'm not posing these questions hoping for an answer. I'm just saying I wouldn't eat a gluten-free Subway sandwich unless I'm sure these issues are included in their script.

    I agree. What about the cross-contamination of the fixings?

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    I presume the bread was baked and cooled on racks all in a gluten-free dedicated area either on site or delivered in a gluten-free dedicated vehicle.

    They are not made in Subway stores and are packaged, unlike their regular wheat rolls. The rolls are undoubtedly gluten-free, and would test below 20 ppm, otherwise they could not make the claim that the rolls are gluten-free.

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    I wouldn't trust the counter personnel at Subway, but applaud the effort of the owner in Oregon. It is personal for him so I know he will take care, but the rest, not so much.

    I'm not sure if you understand that it is in all Oregon Subway stores, and apparently in some Washington ones as well.

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    Does the script include avoiding cross contamination from dipping into the "fixings" and putting them on gluten filled bread? Aren't the fixings then contaminated? Is there a separate area for fixings that have not been used to make non-gluten free subs? I'm not posing these questions hoping for an answer. I'm just saying I wouldn't eat a gluten-free Subway sandwich unless I'm sure these issues are included in their script.

    I was "glutened" by the toppings when I asked for a salad. I didn't notice at the time but even though they put on clean gloves each time they made a sandwich. The process of making regular sandwiches makes getting glutened likely i.e., put the pickles on the bread (touching bread) then dipping into pickles etc and again touching bread.

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    It would be great if Subway A) rolled this out nationwide in their restaurants and B) came out with a line of gluten-free rolls and buns similar to the way Dunkin' Donuts sells its coffee or Panera and Olive Garden sell their salad dressings in supermarkets.

     

    To the naysayers: Remember the perfect is often the enemy of the good. Not everyone who avoids gluten is hyper-sensitive to the point of being overly concerned with potential trace amounts of gluten from cross-contamination. It's this kind of all-or-nothing attitude that likely prevents more companies from jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon and giving us all more gluten-free choices.

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  • About Me

    Celiac.com's Founder and CEO, Scott was diagnosed with celiac disease  in 1994, and, due to the nearly total lack of information available at that time, was forced to become an expert on the disease in order to recover. Scott launched the site that later became Celiac.com in 1995 "To help as many people as possible with celiac disease get diagnosed so they can begin to live happy, healthy gluten-free lives."  In 1998 he founded The Gluten-Free Mall which he sold in 2014. He is co-author of the book Cereal Killers, and founder and publisher of Journal of Gluten Sensitivity.

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