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Eating gluten-free, allergen-free at fast food chains

Posted on February 21st, 2009 by Alison Read 45 Comments - Add Your Own »

innoutburger

I almost never eat fast food. I used to — I remember going through the drive-through at the local Jack-in-the-Box and ordering 3 Super Tacos! They were delicious, in a I-don’t-want-to-know-what’s-in-it kind of way. Now I do know what’s in it, and I’m not allowed to eat it anyway since most fast food has gluten in it. Luckily we have In-N-Out Burger here in California, which is in a league of its own when it comes to fast food — and great for people who can’t have gluten!

Even for people who don’t normally eat fast food, there are those times when you’re on the road, or in a new place, or when you’re in the airport, and fast food restaurants are the only choice or the most convenient choice. I know there are a lot of people who do rely on fast food for a quick meal or when traveling, so to make it easier for you, I am putting all the allergen information for some of the most popular fast food chains here in one place.

Rather than listing out everything you can and can’t have, since fast food products and ingredients may change, I have written a little summary and compiled links to the pages of the websites where you can find all the information you need. That way, you can quickly access the info when you need it and print it out before you hit the road!

In-N-Out Burger

Thank you In-N-Out Burger for making real food, but fast! For the celiacs or gluten-intolerant out there, you can order your 100% beef burger “protein style” and it will come wrapped in a lettuce leaf rather than on a bun. You won’t see it on the menu, but you can ask for it and they won’t even look at you funny. The french fries are made from REAL potatoes and nothing else, and are fried on the spot in 100% cottonseed oil. They only make french fries so no worry about cross-contamination. The spread they use on the burger is gluten-free and dairy-free (it is mayo-based so it contains eggs). Read more about In-N-Out’s Food Quality. Find an In-N-Out Burger location.

McDonald’s

After facing lawsuits in 2006 over the presence of wheat and milk in their french fries after declaring them gluten-free and dairy-free, McDonald’s issued a statement saying that although wheat and milk were used as starting agents in the flavoring, there was no residual protein, hence no allergen, left in the final product. Since that time, however, McDonald’s lists their french fries as containing both wheat and dairy. So can you eat it? I don’t know. Some people with celiac say they eat them with no problem. Some say they have a reaction. You also need to watch out for cross-contamination, as some McDonald’s use a shared fryer with gluten-containing foods, and some use a dedicated fryer for only french fries. For the rest of the menu, see McDonald’s Nutrition Information.

Burger King

According to Burger King’s Allergen List (link no longer works as of 6/6/10 — see update below), their french fries are made in a dedicated fryer and do not contain wheat. Of course, always check to make sure that the fryer really is dedicated. Don’t get your hopes up for anything else on their menu. At the time of this writing the only other things that seem gluten-free (wheat is listed as an allergen) were a plain beef patty, one kind of salad, apple fries, some condiments and drinks. If you read all the crap ingredients they put in their foods, you might be glad you have a disease that prevents you from eating it!
UDPATE 6/6/10: I could no longer find an allergen list for Burger King, but they have a Gluten-Sensitive List. The french fries are on it, but says that they may be fried with gluten-containing foods.

Taco Bell

Tacos are usually a food that a gluten-intolerant person can have… not so at fast food restaurants! If you should venture near a Taco Bell, do NOT eat a taco. Order a tostada, rice and beans, or these other “Suggestions for Wheat and Gluten Sensitive Individuals”  from Taco Bell’s website:

  • Fiesta Taco Salad (order Chicken instead of Beef; order without the shell and without the Red Strips)
  • Express Taco Salad (order Chicken instead of Beef)
  • Zesty Chicken Border Bowl® (order without the Zesty Dressing and without the Red Strips)
  • Southwest Steak Bowl (order without the Creamy Jalapeno Sauce)

For more information, read Taco Bell Food Allergens and Sensitivities and Taco Bell Ingredient Statement.

Jack in the Box

It’s a little disconcerting that a fast food place offers such a diverse menu — from hamburgers to tacos to fish pita snacks to a teriyaki bowl! Okay, judgment aside, if you must eat here for some reason, you will need to look at two different lists: the Product Build (link no longer works as of 6/6/10) which shows you the pieces that make up one dish (like “Regular Bun, Mayo-Onion Sauce, Lettuce, Bacon Slices, Chicken Patty”), and the Ingredients List, which lists the specific ingredient in each of the pieces. If you can’t gluten, I can’t help you too much with this one. I hope you like salad. No croutons.

Wendy’s

I always liked Wendy’s for their baked potatoes. Wendy’s has a list of Items Without Gluten and a Nutrition Guide which includes allergen information for egg, fish, milk, soy, and wheat.

Carl’s Jr.

Go for the Low-Carb Six Dollar Burger and french fries for gluten-free. The fries are also dairy-free, but you will need to check to see if they use a dedicated fryer. Check the Carl’s Jr. Ingredient Guide and the Allergen Information for more info.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

If you can’t eat gluten, don’t even walk in the door unless you like vegetables that are overcooked in hydrogenated oils and chemicals. Yum. But don’t eat the potatoes — they may have wheat depending on the region. Again, better to not even walk through the door. For other allergies, consult the KFC Allergen and Sensitivites Guide and the KFC Ingredient List.

Subway

Even though this is a sandwich shop, there is a pretty big selection of gluten-free salads and the most of the lunch meats are gluten-free. To find out which ones are safe for you, see the Subway Allergen Chart and the Subway Ingredient Guide.

Have you eaten at any one of these establishments? Let us know how your experience was!

Comments

  1. awesome, I didn’t know that about In and Out. I will add it to the fast food section on Go Dairy Free!

  2. Thanks for this great info!

    About McD’s…. I knew it!

  3. About Wendy’s.. the last time I ate the chili, I discovered it contained wheat starch. Make sure you check ingredients each time you order something. The formulations can change!

  4. I tend to rely on Chick-fil-A for fast food. I usually get a grilled chicken breast and some yummy waffle fries. If there’s no CFA around (or if it’s Sunday), Burger King is my second choice. I’ll get a burger patty and some fries. The patties aren’t all that hot by themselves. Chipotle has been my go-to lately. A burrito bowl always does the trick! At McDonald’s I’ll go for a Fruit n Yogurt Parfait without the granola. I just love those things!

  5. Oh Alison, I love you for putting this list together. I, too, like IN-and-Out. Not only because of the quality of the food and their “protein” burgers. But also because its owned by a little old lady. Her and her husband founded it, kept it real, and they treat their employees very, very well. Recently I’ve heard and scene people eating “Animal Style” fries: French fries with grilled onions, cheese, and special sauce on top. They look awesomely fantastic!

    About Taco Bell – this is another one of our quickie emergency foods. My daughter gets a side of rice and a side of beans with no sauce or cheese. She loves it more than the local REAL mexican restaurant. Oh well, she’s a kid, what can you do?

  6. I meant “seen” not “scene”. I know that was like fingernails on a chalkboard, huh?

  7. In N Out has a ”secret” menu on their website. I am not on a gluten free diet, but tend to eat very low carb. Protein burgers are a staple in my diet. Sharon, the animal style french fries are amazing, but definitely not something you can eat often if you’re counting calories. The 6 dollare burgers from Carl’s Jr are very filling! I can never finish mine, but am always content.

  8. Thank you so much for the In-N-Out burger info!!!! We actually have one of those and have never gone! Cool! Also, we do have a local McD’s here in Limon, Co and the french fries do cause a reaction with me. Not pretty. Thanks again for the great info!

  9. If you live in the midwest, Culver’s burgers has a gluten-free list, and also does lettuce-wrapped burgers. Jimmy John’s also makes fresh lettuce-wrapped sandwiches.

  10. Thank GOD.

  11. Thanks for the list, I have pretty much given up fast food, other than an occasional salad. I usually just pack a lunch when I’m gonna be out and about. It’s been so long since I’ve been to Wendy’s I forgot about their baked potato… you’ve inspired me with some options. Thanks!

  12. I just wanted to confirm my experience with the burger king fries. My son Eden HAS had a severe reaction to cross contamination with dairy from fries in other restaurants but we are now at over a dozen visits and NEVER at Burger King!

  13. Carl’s Jr. will do ANY of their burgers as a lettuce wrap, so don’t limit yourself to their stated low carb burger. I eat at Carl’s at least once a week. Best burgers around.

  14. I’m sorry but I’ve been told my numerous Burger King and McDonald’s managers that fry oil is moved from other fryers. There is no such thing as dedicated french fry oil fryers in the world of fast food. The economy is struggling and they will recycle the oil. Don’t risk it.

  15. I have eaten at Burger King lots of times and have never had a problem. I eat the Tendergrill chicken with NO bun. If you read the ingredient list (it’s long for sure), it does not contain any wheat or other sources of gluten.

    McDonald’s grilled chicken, however, does list wheat in the ingredients. I have not eaten at McDonalds since I was diagnosed a year and a half ago. They are not a celiac-friendly restaurant.

  16. Went to Taco Bell the other day to get a quick meal. I usually have the Zesty Chicken Border Bowl® or Southwest Steak Bowl. This day, however, I found that in our area, they no longer have those Bowls. After scouring the menu and finding no “gf friendly” items, I quickly exited the restaurant still hungry!

  17. I don’t know where you are in the country, but here in AZ, Jack in the Box serves Grilled Chicken. They are listed as not having any gluten ingredients, and my daughter has had them dozens of times with no problems. Just to let you know that there is a choice at Jack in the Box.

  18. I am allergic to dairy and soy. I’m 66 years young and was excited to see that these fast food places posted their allergens. However, I would caution everyone with an allergy to read carefully the ingredients of all items sold. Most seem to think that soy only applies to soy beans or soy flour. All most all fast food restaurants cook with soy oil. I have found over the years that people with out these types of allergies don’t understand what the problem is or how extensive it can be. They want to help but don’t know how. I have maintained the following method of staying safe. If I can’t personally read the label I don’t eat it.

  19. can you recommend a good book on Eating gluten-free at fast food chains and where do I get it…. Thx

  20. Mark,
    I think the best bet is to check the websites of the fast food chains. Many have allergen charts now. The problem with a book is that things are always changing!

  21. Panera Bread is VERY careful about cross contamination when told of allergy, change gloves, cut.board etc. Also have many salads that are gluten free.

  22. Kay,
    Good to know — I would never think of walking into a place with Bread in the name!

  23. I can add that Burger King’s breakfast bowl is completely GF, whether you order with bacon or sausage. I eat it regularly w/no problems. And, Taco Bueno’s crunchy beef tacos are seemingly GF since I eat them about twice a week with no repercussions. :)

  24. Jammie,
    Thanks for the info – I know people will appreciate it.

  25. Thanks for the info! My son has Celiac disease, diagnosed at 18 months and is now 5. He loves Subway…we are now regulars at the one near our home and they know just what to do, change gloves etc. Most of the lunch meat and cheese is gluten free as are the chips. We live on the East Coast and also love 5 Guys Burgers and Fries. They serve hand cut french fries (they do use peanut oil), burgers and hotdogs (kosher) that do not have gluten. We sometimes go to McDonalds for breakfast if we are traveling…the scrambled eggs are fine.

  26. My son is 18 months old and is diagnosed with ciliac and is also allergic to eggs wheat milk nuts and the doctors took soy out of his diet as well what are some food options I feel so bad because I feel like he’s not eating enough what are some fast food options or even snack options.

  27. I just heard that Chipotle is all gluten-free except for their tortillas. Never been there, but I hope it’s true!

  28. I just heard that Chipotle is all gluten-free, except for the (flour?) tortillas. Never been there, but I hope it’s true!

  29. Thank you so much for this! such a big help. now i know which fast food chains to avoid and which ones are safe….

  30. Elaine,
    Yes, check my post on Chipotle.

  31. I went to a McDonalds in Vinita, OK and asked them for an allergen menu, or if they could tell me what was wheat-free. At that point, public humiliation was taken to a new level. I was treated rudely, ignored (until they saw I wasn’t leaving), and not once but twice, a worker turned to another and said, “Would you talk to this guy? I don’t know what he’s wanting.” and “What is a gloo-tin?” I had to look up their GF selection online and show it to them. Which led to the same above questions. I finally got an overpriced salad. They even gave me croutons. I fought the urge to insert the croutons in some uncomfortable places within the workers…

  32. I had the same issue too because every time I went out to eat, I always felt that I could no longer be sure what’s in my fast food meals. I got so fed up that I didn’t even want to go out because I was sick of the not being assure that my food was gluten-free. But thankfully after doing some research, I found this guide called the “gluten-free guide to fast food restaurants.” Its just like your post but it also lists all the gluten-free fast food available at most popular fast food chains like Chipotle Chick Fil A, Panera Bread, Boston Market, Starbucks, White Castle, Jason’s Deli, Sonic, and much more. I truly can’t go anywhere to eat without checking this guide. Its very helpful so you should check it out too.

    Here’s the site: Glutenfreefastfoodguide.com

  33. I have had bad experiences with Taco bell and their lack of information regarding gluten free diets/practices. One worker rolled her eyes at me when I asked them to change their gloves before preparing mine and my daughters food. We both must be GF. The Manager came up to me and said they are very clean and resented me suggesting the restaurant was dirty. it can be discouraging. I have had the best experience with In and Out and Chipotle. They see me or my daughter coming and automatically change their gloves. I was unaware of chick fil A so I will check it out. Thanks to all who help navigate the GF lifestyle. Its not easy living with celiac.

  34. We are gluten/soy/dairy free and have had great luck with 5 Guys, which is popping up nationwide. Their burgers and hot dogs are free of all 3 (we bring an Udi’s bun with us), they don’t cook them with any oil and their fries are in a dedicated fryer using peanut oil. If you don’t have a peanut allergy, it’s worth trying. We love it!!
    Haven’t had any luck with Del Taco or Taco Bell. Del Taco uses soy sauce in their beans!

  35. JIMMY JOHNS WARNING: there is gluten in their cheese! And the roast beef! I don’t understand why either of these would have gluten. Use real food JJ!

  36. I have yet to see any confirmation on any site there is more debate over the subject than an actual answer. I have the answer- DO NOT eat McDonalds fries! I had some last night thinking I would be fine but I woke up this morning feel like hell. So know matter what you read if you have a gluten intolerance DO NOT eat their fries.

  37. I am not sure if I am gluten or wheat intolerant but it was suggested to me and I have been trying to stay gluten free for a week to see if anything changes healthwise. I was gonna be stuck trying to figure out how I could find something to eat before my acting class. I would have starved to death but thanks to this article I was able to go to In-N-Out for a protein burger. Tasty and really hit the spot. Thanks so much!

  38. I just have to note that if you chose to eat at Subway, make sure that you can tolerate cross contamination! They touch bread and then use those same gloved hands to dig into EVERY condiment there! I have attempted it twice there and have gotten VERY ill both times! Their products are gluten free, but the contamination, you might as well just eat the bread whole!

  39. I can not eat soy, dairy or gluten. For some reason Wendy’s allergy list claims that several of their dressings are ok for people with Soy allergies, but if you read the actual ingredients they contain soybean oil. I know a lot of people who have soy allergies do not react to the oil, but a lot of them do. definitely read ingredients closely…they lie

  40. My favorite is Elevation Burger. They only fry french fries in their fryers so no cc and they are very careful. They offer lettuce wraps for their burgers. They’re only in a handful of states so far but hopefully they are expanding fast!

  41. Having a wife and son with various food allergies and sensitivities has made it really hard to eat out so I finally decided to do something about it and started to create a website that allows you to see whats in the food item that is on the menu in that restaurant. Its a work in process but thought I’d share since someone might find it useful.

  42. Gluten Free Fast Food – Where Can I Eat Good Fast Food? http://www.aboutgrain.com/gluten-free-fast-food-where-can-i-eat-good-fast-food/

  43. I tried one of Subways gluten free sandwhichs, and it was very good, and I didn’t get sick. It is nice to know I have more fast food options if I need them. I am gluten free and dairy free, and it can be a challege trying to find something to eat when I am traveling. Thanks for the help!

  44. Mooyah burger is a great place, they will use a seperate fryer to make your fries if you tell them you are gluten intolerant or celiac. They also have lettuce wrapped burgers too! Great v place they really go out of their way to make sure my son and i do not get sick. Very affordable as well.

  45. how do we know if we are gluten intolerant? or if it is lactose intolerant? I sometimes get bloated and it looks like i’m pregnant!! I have cut out cows milk and use almond milk or coconut milk. I do like bread a lot…. yikes… what if the bread is from sprouted grain?

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