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Gluten Free on the Go: Subway

Updated on March 7, 2013
Bread is the only thing between you and a mostly-healthy, tasty lunch.
Bread is the only thing between you and a mostly-healthy, tasty lunch.

Healthy Fast Food?

Subway positions itself as a health-conscious fast food restaurant, where diners can choose not just saucy, cheesy meatball subs, but healthy subs low in fat and full of vegetables. They tout their sandwiches that have under six grams of fat and still occasionally trot Jared out to show how he didn't ever gain the weight back.

You might think that a sandwich restaurant would be off limits to the gluten-conscious diner. And you might be right--obviously this is a place full of bread and bread crumbs. But surprisingly the bread is just about the only thing between you and a nice, freshly prepared sandwich.

And maybe one day ... it won't be.

Gluten-Conscious Fast Food

Subway is a pretty iffy environment from a gluten free standpoint. Bread, bread, everywhere, and not a crumb to eat. The first question here is can you make Subway a gluten free environment?


Subway has taken steps to try to do just that.

In the past couple of years Subway has tested gluten free bread and gluten free brownies at particular locations across the US. Part of this is training the staff to prepare everything properly to reduce contact with potentially contaminated surfaces. So, making sure the bread comes pre-packaged with its own disposable knife, making sure the "sandwich artist" changes their gloves, things like that.

As of this writing, as far as I know, this is still in the planning phase, and may never become a thing. Subway wants to do it "right," to avoid the criticism that places like Domino's and California Pizza Kitchen have received, and create a safer environment for gluten free diners. I also would assume that they're trying to see how profitable this whole venture is.

Reportedly it's been made available in Oregon, Texas, Michigan and Wisconsin (at least). According to a few sources online, the availability in Oregon may be more widespread, while in other states it's limited to one city. Hopefully coming to a city near you someday?

This is what you want.

Go to "Menu and Nutrition" and then "Nutrition Information."
Go to "Menu and Nutrition" and then "Nutrition Information."

Until that day ...

For now the gluten free diners have to be content with salads.

Just about every sandwich filler is gluten free.

The ones which are not gluten free are:

  • Teriyaki chicken strips
  • Meatballs with marinara
  • Seafood Sensation

That's all. You can have every cheese. You can have every vegetable. You can have every sauce, and any meat except the three listed above.

You have to avoid the croutons, but that's about it as far as the salads go.

None of the desserts are safe.

Side items were not listed in the allergen chart. Looking on the website I see that there are apple slices as well as apple chips, and a variety of potato/corn chips such as Lay's and Baked Lay's. Do check the back of the bag for these, as Lay's has a few varieties of chips that are not gluten free. Obviously the Sun Chips should be avoided.

I'm not familiar enough with the yogurt parfait. It is probably more or less gluten free if the granola is not included inside the yogurt (but is in a separate compartment).

The Hands of Gluteny Fate
The Hands of Gluteny Fate

Cross-Contamination

Some people say that it's inevitable in a sandwich shop. The employee is reaching into the bin with the veggies, putting them on the sandwich, and possibly putting excess back in the bin or touching more items in the bin after touching the bread.

If Subway wants to really cater to the GF diners, they need to do something about this. Changing gloves isn't quite enough. I'm willing to risk the annual Subway salad (my local Subway looks at me like I have 3 heads whenever I order a salad, and first they have to blow the dust off of the salad containers), but if I were hoping to eat there often I might not chance it.

Utensils would help, but they would still have to make sure not to come into contact with the bread. Is that even possible? More importantly, can people who make $7.25 an hour to slap ingredients on bread be taught to care enough to make a sandwich in anything but the fastest way possible?

I don't think there's a lot of CC going on in this manner, but I can't ignore that it could happen. And for some of us, touching a piece of bread or becoming contaminated with a single crumb is all that it takes.

The Verdict

Subway is the world's largest restaurant chain.

Yes, they have more locations than McDonald's does.

If Subway can ever get that gluten free ball rolling and make their restaurant a safe place not just for those looking for a healthier option but also for the gluten intolerant, that would be a great thing. It would be nice to have an option that isn't a salad, and because there are 18 gajillion-million Subways out there, it would be relatively easy to find that gluten free option.

But in addition to the cost effectiveness issue, they also need to figure out the cross contamination issue in a way that satisfies the largest number of folks, or else risk becoming another CPK.

If you want to contact Subway about gluten or anything else, you can reach them here.


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    • icmn91 profile image

      icmn91 4 years ago from Australia

      It's important people are aware of the cross-contamination risks that places like this pose to coeliacs. I had an absolutely terrible gluten free experience at a university here in Australia and was subjected to gluten up to 3-4 times a week at my hall of residence (which I've hubbed about). All the best.

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