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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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    On 2/11/2019 at 9:41 AM, 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. 

    Chipotle is my favorite place for a gluten free meal. I've never had any problems and I eat there regularly.

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    I live in Canada and Subway has gluten free bread. The one near my house at least is very conscious of cross contamination and will wipe the boards and put on new gloves if you order it. 

     

    I also did research and found out that the poutine at New York Fries is safe (and delicious!)

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    Panera’s manager was so extremely rude to me when I asked about gluten free options - I will never go there again. Even complained to corporate but got a standard so-sorry reply 

    i also get a reaction to chipotle even when I am the first one there at 10:45 when they open 

    I usually have to tell the jimmy johns people what to do (change gloves,put paper down) so far no reaction 

    Sorry I have no other options to add to the list  it’s bleak out there!

     

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    Chick-F-Lay is my go to fast food restaurant because I live in a smaller city without many of the above options. Their staff here is usually aware of gluten free issues, if not, just ask for their manager. They have gluten free request in their computer system which makes it more efficient & they usually go tell kitchen also. Food choices are grilled chicken nuggets, grilled chicken sandwich with gluten free bun (better if they will put in steamer while in the bag), & finally their french fries! 

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    Thanks for the informative article.  From my experience, Five guys gets it (at least at three locations near me).  When I tell them I need gluten free, they always clean the grill (just to avoid any cross contamination); they prepare everything on a clean piece of foil with fresh clean gloves.    It's great that someone takes it seriously.  

    Wendy's was hit and miss.   Most Wendy's near me use similar technique to Five guys, but I can't always see them preparing the food.  I had one experience where the employees didn't get it - they didn't use fresh gloves, clean the grill, or take any steps to avoid cross contamination.  On the other hand, another location near me takes it as seriously as Five guys.   I only wish I could see them prepare the chili to know that they took care to avoid cross contamination.  I love(d) their chilli but don't know if I can trust it.

    My celiac disease is very sensitive, my physicians won't allow me to eat at any restaurant that works with open flour.   Any cross contamination results in severe weight loss.     

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    On 2/11/2019 at 10:09 AM, Guest LAM said:

    While its good to share information that can help people who need to eat gluten-free conveniently get choices that are commonly available, I don't know that this informational is really quite up to step with modern times. There are so many GREAT fast food genuine gluten-free offerings now that we really shouldn't be rewarding companies that have made a poor effort to serve gluten-free needs with free advertising. Sadly the gluten-free community have pretty much all had appalling experiences at almost all of the stores mentioned here. If you ever find yourself asking for a "Protein Style" burger then you are doing yourself a disservice - they can do much better (and should), and you can also go somewhere else and get a burger that doesn't run up your sleeve and take 15mins to order correctly.

    Better try Smash Burger - this is the undisputed champion of the irresistible gluten-free burger, coming in a variety of styles served by knowledgeable staff who care about gluten-free. If you can't find a Smash Burger, then both Chick Fil a and Shake Shack provide good options.

    Please remember that your gluten-free dollar is very valuable these days. There is no need to accommodate under performing menus and accept a poor quality burger without a bun anymore. 

     

    I can't recommend Smash Burger. I've encountered good and bad staff. The worst was the one who was convinced that the potato roll was gluten free. Also, they insist on placing the burger on top of the lettuce even though I tell them to make two stacks, one of veggies one of meat only. Warm, soggy lettuce is icky.  I prefer to make my own stuff at home where I'm sure that it's safe and good.

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    I want to add Chip's Restaurants. They do any of their sandwiches on gluten-free bread, and they are the only restaurant I've been to that has an actual gluten free section on the breakfast menu. French toast and pancakes are very good.

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    Guest celiac in missouri

    Posted

    On 2/11/2019 at 10:41 AM, 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. 

    I never eat at Chipotle!  They can change their gloves any time, cross contamination has already occurred.  They handle the burrito bowls then touch every ingredient as they fill an order.  I was sick before I left the table.  It does not matter if the food starts out gluten free, if they rub it with gluten contaminated gloves all day long.

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    Tom + Chee's!  They made me an awesome sandwich (they use Udi's) on their separate grill and I had some tomato soup with it.  The young lady that waited on us gave me all her attention and time to explain how they kept ingredients from contamination, cooking method, etc.  Excellent experience and I only wish they were closer.

    Twisted Kitchen tried, but there was too much cross contamination and not enough attention and process to avoid it.

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    On 2/11/2019 at 11:41 AM, 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. 

    It’s the beans. There’s no way to guarantee beans aren’t contaminated some celiac do ok but I get ill is I do beans . Try chipotle without the beans 

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    Red Robin offers gluten-free buns, of course, if you're Celiac you have to worry about cross contamination.

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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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