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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Which Fast Food Outlets Offer the Best Gluten-Free Options?

      You’ll likely want to get beyond McDonald’s and Burger King to find the best reliable gluten-free fast food options. These are the most reliable gluten-free and gluten safe fast-food options we kn

    Caption: Image: CC--Mike Mozart

    Celiac.com 02/04/2019 - With the rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet, and with more people being diagnosed with Celiac disease, more restaurants are offering gluten-free alternatives. While this is a great advancement, it’s important to note that not all gluten-free restaurant choices are created equal. Even if food is labelled “gluten-free,” the risk of cross-contamination could still be high, especially given the speed with which food is prepared.

    We see a lot of questions about gluten-free and gluten-safe fast food. One especially prominent question was “Is Burger King gluten-free?” The answer to that is that there is almost nothing gluten-free or gluten-safe at Burger King.

    There are far better options than Burger King in the otherwise bleak gluten-free landscape of American fast food. In fact, if you want reliable gluten-free and gluten-safe options, you’ll probably want to get beyond Burger King and McDonald’s.

    After a bit of research, these are the best, most reliable fast-food chains with gluten-free options we know about:

    Chipotle

    As long as you skip the four tortillas, Chipotle is a solid gluten-free choice. Chipotle’s burrito bowl allows you to choose from rice, meat, beans, and numerous gluten-free fixings. The tortilla chips salsa and guacamole are gluten-free. With numerous locations nationwide, Chipotle is a solid option for gluten-free diners looking for safe, reliable gluten-free fast food.

    Panera Bread

    You might not think it to look at the name, but Panera Bread offers a number of “gluten-friendly” options, mainly soups and salads, as long as you skip the croutons and the bread. Note that they changed their offerings from “gluten-free” to “gluten-friendly” due to the risk of cross-contamination, and their Web site indicates that their offering are not safe for celiacs. 

    Panera’s gluten-friendly options include delicious options like the Greek Salad, Fuji Apple Salad, Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa, Strawberry Poppyseed Salad with Chicken, Baked Potato Soup, Black Bean Soup, Greek Yogurt with Mixed Berries, and many of their steel cut oatmeal dishes.

    For desert, Panera offers gluten-friendly triple chocolate cookie with walnuts and a coconut macaroon. If you decide to eat there make sure you’re very clear while placing your order that you need your meal to be gluten-free.

    Wendy’s

    Wendy’s burgers are gluten-free when made without the bun, and you can also get several of their salads without the chicken or the croutons. Wendy’s famous chili and their baked potatoes and toppings are also a safe bet. The Frosty is gluten-free, too. 

    Wendy’s has more and better gluten-free options than most major burger chains, and information about cross-contamination on their website shows that they understand gluten-free cooking.

    In’N’Out Burger

    In’N’Out is a family run California burger chain with a die-hard fan base. In’N’Out offers burgers, fries, shakes and drinks. That’s it. They make their fries fresh from scratch and will make any burger “Protein-style,” that’s lettuce-wrapped without a bun. As burger chains go, In’N’Out is a reliable stop for many gluten-free Californians. Basically, their buns are the only gluten in the joint. Their open kitchen allows you to watch as they prepare your order.

    Five Guys

    Like In’N’Out, Five Guys is likely a bit safer than other burger chains, simply because it uses very few products that contain gluten. There are no breaded items it Five Guys, and Five Guys’ burgers, fries, and hot dogs, and nearly all toppings, are gluten-free, just make sure you skip the bun, the malt vinegar, and the fry sauce. Five Guys milkshakes are gluten-free, too, just watch out for the Oreo cookie pieces, the malted milk, and cherry milkshake mix-ins.

    Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen

    The only gluten-free options at Popeyes are side dishes. But, their gluten-free side options are not bad, and include their Cajun rice, red beans and rice, coleslaw, and corn on the cob.

    Subway

    Subway tested gluten-free buns and toyed with rolling out guaranteed gluten-free offerings, but then pulled back. Subway still offers gluten-free rolls at branches in Oregon and Washington state. Subway does offer salad version of many of their classic subs, like the spicy Italian Salad.

    Chili's

    Chili's isn’t a fast food chain, but a casual dining restaurant with popular take-out options. Chili’s does offer gluten-free patrons an allergen/vegetarian fact sheet and separate gluten-free menu. Chili's bone-in buffalo wings, bottomless tostada chips, and fresh guacamole are all gluten-free. Chili’s does warn diners that cross-contamination is possible, and advises that they consult a manager before ordering.

    Do you have a favorite gluten-free or gluten-safe fast food restaurant that we’ve missed? Share your thoughts below.

    Read more at Thrillist.com, and Thedailynutrition.com



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    2 hours ago, Guest TF😃 said:

    My daughter 11 year old daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease 3 years ago and in my experience, i would not!! risk the chance of the extreme carelessness that occurs with cross contamination of the food chains claiming to be gluten-free. Why? Because 9×/10× the staff, even head chefs, cannot answer a simple question: "What measures do you take to ensure there is no cross contamination happening while perparing and serving your gluten-free food?" Ive asked this numerous times and usually get a blank stare or "im not sure." Unacceptable! There has only been 1 instance where i was satisfied with the response and where my daughter has never had an issue: Carrabas Italian Grill ( Brandon, FL). The server reported he had celiac disease himself, that the gluten-free spagetti with pomodora sauce (ask for NO Meatballs) is made in seperate pot of water and prepared away from gluten containing foods, seperate gloves are used and utensils are not shared". Thats the type of response you want if you are going to risk it.

    Well said!  

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    It's always best to check with management of the individual restaurant before ordering.  I thought Wendy's was safe until I saw the girl behind the counter switching back and forth from burger buns to potatoes without any hand washing or new gloves.  If management is not mindful of cross-contamination issues, the food is not safe for someone with Celiac disease.

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    I second staying away from Panera.  I have not checked recently but for a long time, their own website said explicitly that did not want the business of celiacs or other people highly sensitive to gluten.  But Five Guys is great, that is a go to place for us when we need a quick bite.

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    23 hours ago, Guest Guest MK said:

    This is not safe information! Many people trusted this website for factual info. What you’ve published is NOT. Example - Panera specifically says they’re NOT for Celiac’s and they’ve even changed their marketing of their Gluten products to say “Gluten Friendly” not Gluten Free in order to keep Celiac’s safe and fully aware of the risks. This article should be revised or removed. It makes me wonder how many other articles I’ve read are not factual.  

    When I first read your response to the article, I was surprised at your comments. I went back and read the article again and it indeed states the "facts" that you said. Remove the article! Why? I felt it was good information and stated good offerings. Would I go to PB if I had my own choice, NO. But with a group of non-celiacs, there are so what viable options. I liked the article!!!

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    4 hours ago, Guest Gluten Free Mom said:

    Chick-Fillet (? spelling) offers a WONDERFUL gluten free bun for their chicken fillet sandwich!  The taste is almost like a regular bun, and with mayo, tomato & lettuce, and chips, I can't tell the difference!

    The grilled chicken at Chick Filet has been marinaded in a marinade that contains MSG. I found this out after reacting to their gluten free chicken sandwich. I am a very sensitive Celiac and contacted their corporate office. I am also allergic to MSG! Be careful out there.

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    If the place doesn't have a drive thru window it's not really fast food. Also, a place whose gluten free options are limited to salads... doesn't see to really qualify. Lot's of places offer salads. Chick-Fli-A offers a gluten free pre-packed (and pretty tasty bun) and then will give you their grilled chicken breast so that you can have a gluten free chicken sandwich. It's pretty good too. 

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    I get so excited thinking that there might be a place or two that are safe for me to eat out - I get tired of doing all the cooking, all the time.  However, I've worked in places where you had to understand sterile conditions and practices.  That's really what's needed to get a gluten free meal in the sense that you cannot have any gluten contamination.  I have zero faith in the local hires at fast food restaurants being able to understand or practice sterile procedures.  Most of the people we tend to complain about in restaurants aren't knowledgeable in that area and frankly, why would they be?  It's a big difference from food practices though there's similarities.  I'm still finding myself doing things or almost doing things that are possible points of contamination. 

    If a restaurant isn't gluten free to begin with, it's just going to be a risk;  sometimes without the preparers knowledge if someone got to the tools or food before them and it's already contaminated.  It makes me a bit depressed.  When time is short it would be so nice to grab a burger, order a pizza, etc.

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    22 hours ago, Guest Chipotle Issues said:

    I know Chipotle says they are gluten-free.  I have issues if I eat there, and I have those issues at several east cost Chipotle's in NJ, NY and CT. Even though I have them change their gloves and have the same person walk the line with me, I will be ill for 5 days after. Their Corporate people can't explain what it can be. But I get ill every visit. I'd love to know the problem item. Being 5 days it might not be gluten, but nothing I eat has ever caused GI symptoms for 5 days. I avoid them. 

    My GI doctor had me go on a low FODMAP diet for IBS. Monash University in Australia has an app that helps you understand the different categories of foods that cause IBS symptoms. I did have a problem with one of their recipes with soy sauce and fish sauce that were supposed to be gluten free. Other than that, no problems at all! They give you the information to avoid lactose in dairy products. When I did the challenges, the high fructose concentration in sugar snap peas (and probably honey) bothered me. I tested “gluten” by making cookies with 

     

    23 hours ago, Guest Chipotle Issues said:

    I know Chipotle says they are gluten-free.  I have issues if I eat there, and I have those issues at several east cost Chipotle's in NJ, NY and CT. Even though I have them change their gloves and have the same person walk the line with me, I will be ill for 5 days after. Their Corporate people can't explain what it can be. But I get ill every visit. I'd love to know the problem item. Being 5 days it might not be gluten, but nothing I eat has ever caused GI symptoms for 5 days. I avoid them. 

     When I saw the GI doctor, he found no problems with celiac, but he had me go on a low FODMAP diet. Monash University in Australia has an app that lays it all out for you. 

    The app lays out the low lactose dairy products! I’m buying lactose free milk and making yogurt with it. Challenge testing showed that I have a problem with the high fructose concentrations in sugar snap peas (and probably honey and high fructose corn syrup). I did a challenge test to see if it is gluten or carbs in wheat that bother me. I added vital wheat gluten to cookies made with gluten free flours and didn’t have a problem with them. I still maintain a “gluten free” diet without mentioning that it’s the carbs in wheat that bother me, rather than gluten itself  

    My GI doctor also has me on Prilosec and Citrucel. My GI system hasn’t felt like this since my 20s!

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    Try Bartaco if there is one in your area. Their regular menu is 99% gluten free and they seem to understand gluten issues.

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    On 2/4/2019 at 1:40 PM, Guest jlm said:

    I would NOT recommend Panera.  My reasoning has more to do with staff than the food.  We experienced EXTREMELY rude staff when inquiring about gluten free options.  Basically they laughed hysterically and informed us "this is a bread place".  Sorry to say that one experience turned us off to Panera and we will not even try it again.

    Agree! Panera Bread has rude employees when it comes to asking about gluten free options which is annoying since they actually have a lot of gluten-free options. 

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    2 hours ago, michaelens said:

    When I first read your response to the article, I was surprised at your comments. I went back and read the article again and it indeed states the "facts" that you said. Remove the article! Why? I felt it was good information and stated good offerings. Would I go to PB if I had my own choice, NO. But with a group of non-celiacs, there are so what viable options. I liked the article!!!

    The article was revised as a result of the comment(s) about PB.  The article originally didn't include the information.

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    Red Robin has always done well by me. When you sit down, tell the waitress you're gluten free and she brings you a tablet with gluten free options (as well as other options for allergies, sensitivities, etc.) Most of their burgers are gluten free, they offer gluten free rolls, and they have a dedicated fryer for their fries.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

  • Related Articles

    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 01/03/2014 - The United State Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has clarified what their recent gluten-free rule means for restaurants. When the FDA announced its gluten-free labeling standard in August, the agency said that, for restaurants, “any use of an FDA-defined food labeling claim (such as “fat free” or “low cholesterol”) on restaurant menus should be consistent with the respective regulatory definitions.
    The agency noted this same approach would now be followed with respect to “gluten-free” claims made in restaurants and other retail food service establishments.
    The FDA's updated Question & Answer, #9 under ‘Labeling’, now reads:
    FDA recognizes that compliance with the gluten-free rule in processed foods and food served in restaurants is important for the health of people with celiac disease.
    In August 2013, FDA issued final rule that established a federal definition of the term ‘”gluten-free” for food manufacturers that voluntarily label FDA-regulated foods as “gluten-free.”
    This definition is intended to provide a reliable way for people with celiac disease to avoid gluten, and we expect that restaurants’ use of “gluten-free” labeling will be consistent with the federal definition.
    The deadline for compliance with the rule is not until August 2014, although we have encouraged the food industry to bring its labeling into compliance with the new definition as soon as possible.
    Given the public health significance of “gluten-free” labeling, we encourage the restaurant industry to move quickly to ensure that its use of “gluten-free” labeling is consistent with the federal definition and look forward to working with the industry to support their education and outreach to restaurants.
    In addition, state and local governments play an important role in oversight of restaurants. We expect to work with our state and local government partners with respect to gluten-free labeling in restaurants. We will consider enforcement action as needed, alone or with other agencies, to protect consumers.
    For more information:
    ACDA Statement on Gluten-free Regulation Regulation from the Federal Register FDA: Gluten-Free Labeling FDA: Gluten-Free Labeling Final Rule Q&A Consumer Update

    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.
    I 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.

    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 12/04/2015 (Updated 02/11/2019) - Note that since this article was originally published Panera changed their offerings from “gluten-free” to “gluten-friendly” due to the risk of cross-contamination, and their Web site indicates that their offering are not safe for celiacs. 
    In what may be good news for gluten-free bread lovers, Panera Bread, the national-fast casual restaurant that centers around freshly baked goods, is now testing out a new products to bring in gluten-free customers.
    The company plans to test a gluten-free Rosemary Focaccia Roll in 15 stores in the Detroit area, and plans to take the product nation-wide in the second half of 2016. To be successful, the chain will have to succeed where many others have failed; they will have to produce a high-quality product that is tasty, commercially viable, and safe for people with celiac disease.
    Panera's effort is headed in part by the company's head baker Tom Gumpel, who says that there is currently "…little to no good-tasting gluten-free bread in this country, and I've eaten about every slice there is."
    To solve the quality/taste challenge, Panera has created a focaccia roll rather than a loaf of bread. The roll is made from white sorghum from Africa, and contains sprouted broccoli, chia, and flax seeds for better nutrition and improved bread texture.
    As far as folks with celiac disease are concerned, they will need to exercise some caution, because while Panera's bread is made in gluten-free facility and with gluten-free ingredients, it will be stored and served alongside the store's regular offerings, which may be an issue for more sensitive people.
    A review by Yahoo Food says that the bread is made with olive oil, and then basted with it, giving the bread a slightly greasy quality. The flavor becomes more nutty and rich with toasting, and may work best on breakfast or hot sandwiches.
    As for price, in the test region, the bread will cost $1.50 more as an option on a sandwich, 75 cents more as a side choice, and a $1 each if purchased retail.
    What do you think? Excited to try Panera's new gluten-free focaccia? Share your comments below.
    Read more at Yahoo.com

    Jefferson Adams
    Celiac.com 10/15/2018 - If you’re on a gluten-free diet for medical reasons, then you’re probably already cautious about eating out. A new study tells us exactly why people with celiac disease and other gluten-sensitive conditions have reason to be very careful about eating out.
    According to the latest research, one in three foods sold as "gluten-free" in U.S. restaurants actually contain trace levels of gluten.
    This is partly due to the fact that the gluten-free diet has become popular with many non-celiacs and others who have no medical need for the diet. That has led many restaurants to offer gluten-free foods to their customers, says study author Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, of Columbia University's Celiac Disease Center. 
    But, if this research is any indication, too many restaurants don’t do a good job with gluten-free. For the study, more than 800 investigators set out to assess the true gluten content of dishes listed as "gluten-free" on menus. Armed with portable gluten sensors, they tested for gluten levels that met or exceeded 20 parts per million, the standard cutoff for any gluten-free claim.
    Based on more than 5,600 gluten tests over 18 months, the investigators determined that 27 percent of gluten-free breakfast meals actually contained gluten. At dinner time, this figure hit 34 percent. The rise could reflect a steady increase in gluten contamination risk as the day unfolds, the researchers said.
    Off course, the risk is not all equal. Some restaurants are riskier than others. Unsurprisingly, the biggest culprit seems to be restaurants that offer gluten-free pastas and pizzas. Nearly half of the pizza and pasta dishes from those establishments contained gluten, according to the study.
    Why is that? Well, as most folks with celiac disease know all too well,  kitchens aren’t really set up to segregate gluten, and "sharing an oven with gluten-containing pizza is a prime setting for cross-contamination," says Lebwohl. Also, too many restaurants use the same water to cook gluten-free pasta as they do for regular pasta, which contaminates the gluten-free pasta and defeats the purpose.
    Moreover, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates gluten-free labels on packaged food products, there is currently no federal oversight of gluten-free claims in restaurants. 
    The results of the study will be presented today at a meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology, in Philadelphia. Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
    In the absence of federal enforcement at the restaurant level, the burden for making sure food is gluten-free falls to the person doing the ordering. So, gluten-free eaters beware!
    These results are probably not surprising to many of you. Do you have celiac disease? Do you eat in restaurants? Do you avoid restaurants? Do you have special tactics?  Feel free to share your thoughts below.
    Read more at UPI.com

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    Thanks for all that! No luck from PCP anyway -- just a referral to GI to go along with the referral to dermatology, and we're not sure about going to either one if it's just going to require months more of gluten. He's already at the end of his rope with two years of itching all over, so it's a bit much to ask. Presumably endoscopy would show intestinal damage, though, without adding more gluten, since it should take a lot longer to heal? He definitely has intestinal issues along with
    I thought it was the least I could do, after all the help and information that others here, such as yourself Squirmingitch, have provided me here. (By the way, I am on day 7 of the Fasano Diet, and just today I am really noticing a significant lessening in the itching and little DH blisters/bumps, and my skin just feeling "calmer" in general. But I've had good days like this before, here and there within the past five or six months, so I'm not claiming success quite yet.)
    Good info. Thanks for posting. It's always great when people post what they learned from a phone call, or email with a manufacturer.
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