If you’ve been in the gluten-free community long enough, you know McDonald’s is one of the least gluten-free, friendly fast food restaurants in the U.S.
Most old-school fast-food restaurants are not friendly to the gluten-free community. Burger King, KFC, and Taco Bell fail to offer safe gluten-free options.
In this article, I share 4 reasons why McDonald’s in the U.S. doesn’t offer a gluten-free menu, per a former chef for the fast food chain, as well as share what menu items are made without gluten ingredients and what countries do boast a gluten-free McDonald’s.
Why Gluten-Free Is a No-Go at McDonald’s
Mike Haracz is a former McDonald’s corporate chef and a TikTok influencer. He explains in a TikTok video why McDonald’s is the least gluten-free friendly restaurant in the U.S. and why you’ll probably never see a “real” gluten-free food item (aka, something that is safe for someone with celiac disease) at any of the 13,520 McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S.
(1) Gluten Is Everywhere
He says, “There’s gluten all over the kitchen.”
In a kitchen where airborne gluten and cross-contact are present in everything from the fryer and grill to the servers handling food, creating a safe food item is impossible. “Wheat’s just in the air,” he says.
McDonald’s has even put hydrolyzed wheat in its French fries, making naturally gluten-free potatoes off-limits to gluten-free folk.
(There is debate over whether hydrolyzed wheat is safe for people with celiac disease. Read my article, Nima Sensor Controversy Boils Over When Influencer Puts McDonald’s French Fries to the Hidden Gluten Test, to understand this hotly contested topic in gluten-free land.)
(2) Too Much Risk
Furthermore, Chef Mike says McDonald’s would be taking on an enormous legal risk by offering a gluten-free item touted as something safe for a person with celiac disease.
He says it’s a risk they’re unwilling to take, similar to why you can’t order a runny egg or medium-rare burger. Due to the volume and scale of McDonald’s nearly 14,000 U.S. operations, they can get many people sick.
(3) Training and Staffing Challenges
Chef Mike also hints that, should McDonald’s put allergen protocols in place, it would be challenging to ensure protocols are followed given the age and skill level of the crew.
(4) It Doesn’t Make Business Sense
He says the only safe option would be for McDonald’s to bring in a pre-packaged gluten-free item. But then it would have to make business sense.
The items would be loaded with disclaimers, like Domino’s, turning off the community from ever wanting to eat at the restaurant. This means the item probably wouldn’t sell well nor make business sense.
One commenter said, “It’s a fast-service restaurant. They’re not trying to appease the one percent supposedly gluten intolerant.”
Another said, “The risk outweighs the rewards. It’s all numbers.”
Some International McDonald’s Offer Gluten-Free Options
Ironically, while McDonald’s in the U.S. has yet to dip its toe into the gluten-free market, McDonald’s restaurants in other parts of the world seem to have figured it out.
I headed straight for McDonald’s when I traveled to Amsterdam in June 2018. My family thought I was crazy because who visits a foreign country to eat at McDonald’s?!? Touche!
I ordered a hamburger with a gluten-free bun, but unfortunately, my Nima Sensor, a portable gluten-detecting device, found gluten.
I think Nima found only trace amounts of gluten due to gluten cross-contamination because so many other gluten-free eaters have been able to enjoy the gluten-free burger with no issue. The fries did not contain gluten, so I still ate those.
Countries with Gluten-Free McDonald’s
Below is a list of countries where McDonald’s offers gluten-free buns, fries, and sometimes baked goods, such as gluten-free brownies in Austria.
Be sure to verify with a specific country’s McDonald’s for details on what is and isn’t gluten-free.
I live in the U.S. and cannot personally guarantee the accuracy of this list since menus are prone to change.
Here are the countries that currently offer gluten-free options (i.e., buns and fries) at McDonald’s:
- Czech Republic
- Netherlands (Amsterdam – see above)
- Italy (including burger buns by Schar)
- Spain (including Andorra, The Canary Islands, Ibiza, Gibraltar, Majorca, and Menorca)
What’s Gluten-Free at McDonald’s (U.S.)?
If you must eat at McDonald’s, you should know that the restaurant chain says it can’t guarantee anything is gluten-free.
“We currently don’t certify any menu items as gluten-free. We encourage you to check the ingredients information for individual menu items. However, despite taking precautions, normal kitchen operations may involve some shared cooking and preparation areas, equipment, and utensils, and the possibility exists for your food items to come in contact with other food products, including some that may contain gluten,” says McDonald’s.
If I had to eat at McDonald’s (i.e., all my friends wanted to go, and I didn’t want to make a stink about it), here are some items I would consider ordering:
- Soft drink
Snacks and Desserts:
- Apple slices (exciting, right?)
- Parfait without granola
- Hot fudge or caramel sundae
- Shake (chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry)
- M&M McFlurry – Please note that while the M&M McFlurry doesn’t contain gluten, it’s prepared on highly cross-contaminated equipment used to make the other McFlurries that contain gluten. It feels too risky.
- Southwest Chicken Salad without tortilla strips
- Egg McMuffin without the English muffin (bun).
- Hamburger, cheeseburger, quarter pounder, or Big Mac without the bun, all the vegetable fixings, and no sauce. The Big Mac sauce contains hydrolyzed wheat and should be avoided. All the burgers are 100% meat and contain no fillers, but they are prepared on a shared grill with gluten-containing items.
McDonald’s includes ingredient lists and allergen disclosures for individual items on its entire menu online.
I have tried to verify all the information in this article, but it’s essential to do your due diligence as menu items change. It can vary from restaurant to restaurant and country to country.
The Bottom Line
If you live in the U.S., chances are McDonald’s won’t be a celiac or gluten-free safe space anytime soon.
Your best bet is to avoid eating at the Golden Arches altogether or travel to Italy or Spain to enjoy a burger or two.
And it goes without saying that you’re always better off eating a gluten-free lunch you prepared and packed at home over any fast food prepared by untrained staff in a busy shared kitchen. It’s just too risky.
If you love to eat out but want to do so as safely as possible, download The Ultimate Guide to Eating Out Gluten-Free.
You might enjoy these articles, too:
- Eating Gluten-Free at Taco Bell (Nima Tested)
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- How to Eat Gluten-Free at Chick-fil-A
- Putting the Five Guys Gluten-Free Menu to the Nima Sensor Test
- Gluten-Free Fast Food Restaurants – Nima Tested
- Pizza Restaurants that Don’t Recommend Their Gluten-Free Pizza for People with Celiac Disease
- Is Wingstop Gluten Free and the Scoop on Chicken Wing Restaurants