Gluten-Free on the Run (The 2014 Edition)

I’m pretty good at bringing snacks and my own food whenever I’ll be away from home and on the road, but there are always times when I’m hungry and need something fast. Trying to find gluten-free fast food can be a real challenge, especially since cross-contamination is a bigger risk. As well, fast food staff are often not well educated on allergies and intolerances, so you might not have much help at your local burger joint.

To make your journey easier, do some research beforehand. Look up fast-food menus and their allergen charts online and find some suitable options. If you happen to be at a place that you haven’t  eaten at before or researched, ask for an allergen chart. And if worse comes to worse, stop at a grocery store and grab some easy gluten-free snacks, like fruit, rice cakes, or trail mix bars (like KIND or Larabars). It might not be the most filling meal but it should tide you over until you can find a safe option.

Let me share what I’ve found in my journey for gluten-free fast food. I can’t guarantee that these items are completely gluten-free, but I hope that this information will help you decide what fast food options would be best for you if you’re on the run and need some fuel.

McDonald’s

In Canada, McDonald’s is one of the few places that you can eat French fries since they cook them separately from other breaded items. (Fries served in the United States have additives that contain wheat.) Their poutine is also gluten-free!

Their Tuscan, Mighty Caesar, side caesar, and garden salads are all gluten-free as long as you skip the crispy chicken and croutons and stick with Renee’s dressing (except for the Asian Sesame vinaigrette, which contains wheat).

You can also order a sandwich without the bun. The hamburger patties (regular, Big Mac, or Angus), grilled chicken breasts, bacon, cheese, vegetables, and most sauces (the notable exceptions being BBQ and Big Mac) are all gluten-free by nature, although cross-contamination is a real concern.

They have also recently introduced fruit smoothies, which have become a personal favourite.

And, you can even have dessert – all of their sundaes are gluten-free! I’d  stay away from the McFlurries, though, since two out of three of their regularly offered toppings contain gluten. (The Rolo topping is the only one that contains no flour.)

Check out their nutrition information (updated in January of 2014) at http://www1.mcdonalds.ca/NutritionCalculator/IngredientFactsEN.pdf.

Burger King

Burger King has some breakfast options that should be safe for the gluten-intolerant, as long as you skip the croissant (not kidding!) or toasted bun. Their gluten-free breakfast items include:

  • Omelet
  • Sausage patty
  • Sliced ham
  • Bacon
  • Strawberry banana smoothie

Your options for the rest of the day are pretty limited, however. You’re best to stick with their TenderGrill chicken filet (not the original chicken filet), steakhouse patty, or Whopper patty. Their condiments, including cheese and bacon, are all fine. As for salads, stay away from the Caesar as the dressing contains wheat. The BLT salad and the rest of the dressings should be OK. As well, their French fries should be gluten-free and cooked separately, but double-check when ordering.

Please note that this information is based on their allergen guide from early 2013, which has gone missing from the Burger King website. The current allergen guide only contains nutritional information such as calorie and fat count. More information might be available in-store.

Tim Hortons

According to the Tim Horton’s December 2013 Allergen Chart, which I downloaded from Tim Hortons’ Nutritional Information page, the following breakfast items do not have any gluten-containing ingredients:

  • All beverages
  • Hashbrowns
  • Egg patties, omelettes, and scrambled eggs
  • Bacon, ham, and sausage
  • Processed cheese
  • Chili
  • Hearty Bacon Potato Soup
  • Turkey & Wild Rice Soup
  • Creamy Sundried Tomato Soup
  • Cream of Carrot Soup (Québec only)

However, the allergen chart also states: “If you have a food allergy we recommend that you refrain from eating our products. Although we take precautions, it is impossible to guarantee that our products have not come into contact with peanuts, nuts or other allergens.”

The sole option that is safe for Celiacs are items produced and packaged in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Right now, that’s just the coconut macaroons. We’re hoping to see more choices!

Wendy’s

Wendy’s makes life easy for those with allergies and intolerances by providing several allergen resources at http://www.wendys.ca/food/NutritionLanding.jsp. They even have a gluten-free list that is updated regularly. As of July 2013, gluten-free options included: 

  • Hamburger patty or grilled chicken breast with no bun
  • Baked potatoes
  • Chili
  • Chili cheese nachos
  • Frosties
  • Five salads with six different dressing options

As well, some locations have a dedicated fryer for their French fries.

Subway

Subway is my usual choice when eating out since you can make any sandwich into a salad. A few caveats, though! First, be aware of the few meats that have gluten (see below) and avoid those. Second, tell your sandwich artist that you have a condition where you can’t have wheat. To reduce the risk of cross-contamination, order a chopped salad (which is prepared with special utensils), ask them to use clean utensils, or ask them to put your meat and vegetables in the salad whole.

Subway’s allergen guide (last updated in November 2013) is located here. Basically, all meats are OK except the Cold Cut Combo, chicken teriyaki, and Meatballs & Marinara. All sauces (except the house sauce), vegetables, and cheeses are OK. Add some Lay’s chips for dessert and you’re all set!

New York Fries

Although NYF doesn’t have an allergy guide, we e-mailed them and found out that:

  • Their French fries contain no wheat or gluten, and their fryers are used only for French fries.
  • All poutines, including the original recipe with gravy, Braised Beef, Butter Chicken, and Works, are gluten-free!
  • All veggies, the cheese sauce, and their chili are also gluten-free.

The catch is that the gravy, poutine sauces, Cajun seasoning, cheese sauce, and chili are made in plants where gluten is present, so they cannot guarantee that there has been no contamination. California seasoning, malt vinegar, hot dogs, and buns are not gluten-free.

A & W

Like most other burger chains, the beef patties at A & W should be 100% beef. As well, their hot dogs and grilled chicken breasts contain no fillers. As far as I can tell, all of their condiments (such as bacon, cheese, and sauces) contain no gluten either. Their Veggie Burger is packed with gluten, though, so stay away from it. Likewise, their fries are usually cooked in with other breaded items (although the batter on the fries is gluten-free). However, they do offer a coleslawgarden greens salad, and several Heinz dressings which should be OK.

Nutritional facts are available at http://www.aw.ca/publicinfo.nsf/nutritionalfacts2. Their allergen information is not easy to access, but from what we can tell all items are produced in a gluten-containing facility.

KFC

KFC has even fewer gluten-free options. Here is a summary of items that do not contain gluten according to their allergen guide:

  • Mashed potatoes
  • Corn
  • Coleslaw and potato salads
  • All dipping sauces

Taco Bell

According to Taco Bell’s allergen guide, the only item on their menu free of gluten is their side dish of nachos and cheese. It does not indicate that the nachos are prepared in a way that would cross-contaminate them.

Wok Box

If you are not Celiac, and are sensitive to wheat only, the Wok Box has some items marked as “Can be wheat-free” on their allergen guide, including:

  • Pad Thai noodle box
  • Sweet Mongolian noodle box
  • Korean Beef Bulgogi or Mongolian Beef and Broccoli rice boxes
  • Jungle Lemongrass or Thai Red curry boxes
  • Vietnamese Beef Pho soup
  • Steamed rice or ribbon noodles

However, there is no information available online about whether these items contain gluten. I visited their Dartmouth Crossing location and was not able to get any information there, either. As well, everything is stir-fried using the same woks and pans, making cross-contamination almost certain. Celiacs beware!

I’d be interested in hearing what your gluten-free fast food experiences have been! Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

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  1. #1 by Amalia Oganesian on January 22, 2011 - 2:51 pm

    Nice post. I was checking continuously this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely useful information specifically the last part 🙂 I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this certain info for a very long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  2. #2 by Dave on April 29, 2012 - 12:19 pm

    i was at a BK in the U.S. yesterday; didn’t know that any of their dressings had gluten….so had the grilled chicken caeser, and became ill several hours later. it was the citrus vinagerette caeser dressing. Do you know if this one contains gluten? Any idea how much?

    Thank!!!

    • #3 by glutenfree4hfx on April 30, 2012 - 12:49 pm

      Burger King USA has a list of products that should be gluten-free at http://www.bk.com/cms/en/us/cms_out/digital_assets/files/pages/MenuGlutenFree.pdf. (Note that they do not guarantee that anything is gluten-free. They do not recommend that people with severe gluten intolerance consume any of their foods.)

      The Caesar salad with citrus vinaigrette dressing is not on this list, so it probably contains gluten. 😦 I have found that salad dressings often contain gluten, so it is worth it to ask the restaurant for a gluten-free list.

  3. #4 by Sheryl E on September 11, 2012 - 10:33 pm

    Correction to your KFC menu: I called 2 KFCs, and their mashed potatoes are made with a powder containing wheat, and their grilled chicken is marinated with flour as one of the ingredients..

  4. #6 by Doug on January 29, 2014 - 4:24 pm

    MacDonald’s French fries need to be avoided. They are cooked in dedicated fryers but what the article above misses is that at the end of the day (most restaurants) the oil from all of the fryers (nuggets, etc.,) is run through ONE filter and into ONE holding tank. It is then redistributed into all the fryers for the next day. I learned this the hard way so beware.

    • #7 by glutenfree4hfx on January 29, 2014 - 5:54 pm

      Thanks for the heads up! According to the McDonald’s website (http://yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca/questions/24011), filtration is actually done separately to address allergen and vegan concerns. But, they can’t guarantee there’s no cross-contamination, and it’s a good question to ask at any restaurant with a “dedicated” fryer!

  5. #8 by Beth on January 30, 2014 - 8:21 pm

    First of all I have to say how much I love your blog. I love the variety of information you provide; from product and restaurant reviews, meal ideas and recipes and general information and news in the world of “gluten free”.

    I just can’t wrap my head around the idea of eating at Subway. I would think all of the veggies, meats and cheeses would be contaminated. The workers are touching the bread and then touching all of these items. All I can picture is someone handling a sub and digging their hand into that big tub of lettuce. And how many times have I seen the workers grab the wrong ingredient, or too much of an ingredient, or the customer changes their mind and they just put the ingredient back to be used on another sub (or salad). Again, contaminating the item because they are touching both the bread and all of the ingredients.

    Am I being overly cautious and paranoid? I’ve never ordered a salad from Subway but I assume they just use all the ingredients laid out for the sandwiches.

    • #9 by glutenfree4hfx on January 30, 2014 - 8:50 pm

      Thanks for the kind words! I am glad that you have found the blog helpful. 🙂

      Cross-contamination is definitely a big risk when eating at Subway. That being said, I’ve found that they are quite careful if you tell them you have a gluten allergy/intolerance. They are even testing a GF bread in the US! I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky, but I haven’t gotten sick from eating there.

      • #10 by Cc on April 16, 2014 - 11:17 pm

        Yes Seattle is one of the test areas for gluten free bread at subway. My Mother in Law says it’s not too bad.

  6. #11 by Sharon on October 5, 2014 - 6:07 pm

    Tim Horton’s in Canada only has gluten free macaroons… They show a big long list but say if you have allergies to foods Do NOT eat there ..So if you r hungry for lunch look to a McDonalds or Wendy’s ABC restaurant as they have gluten free menu ideas just make sure u check the sauces …but very disappointing when u want Tim Horton’s and u can only have a macaroon ….

    • #12 by glutenfree4hfx on October 5, 2014 - 6:30 pm

      Yes, Tim Hortons does not have great options… Would love to see that change!

  7. #13 by Melissa on July 23, 2016 - 7:32 pm

    Hi there, with regards to your Wok Box experience, I work at one in Canada and I have celiac. If you tell them you have an allergy they will cook your meal in a wok that is designated strictly to gluten free Woks! As well all their soy sauce is gluten free. Hope this helps a little!

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