Are French Fries Gluten-free?
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Nov 12 2009

Are French Fries Gluten-free?

Potatoes are most certainly gluten-free. You might have read or been told you can’t eat French fries in restaurants because the fries are often times cooked in a fryer with battered fried foods that contain gluten. That means the oil is contaminated and nothing prepared in the fryer is considered gluten-free, regardless of what it is. Any gluten-free foods that are dumped into a gluten fryer are not gluten-free when they come out.

When I first read this information myself, I had a very hard time believing it. After several unscientific experiments of my own, which always resulted with me doubled over in pain, I realized that contaminated fryer foods were unsafe for me to consume. There are exceptions to this rule. Though it is not extremely common, some restaurants do have dedicated fryers.

Dedicated fryers can be dedicated for what ever the restaurant deems them to be used for. If they have one for French fries, unless the fries are coated with something that isn’t gluten-free, the fries would be considered gluten-free. In my experience, gluten coated fries are very rare, but I have run across them on occasion. If an establishment has a gluten-free fryer, they likely have gluten-free fries and will be able to confirm that for you.

There is such a thing as gluten-free battered fried foods, but restaurants that serve them are far and few between. Some places use cornstarch batters and others use rice flour or other gluten-free flour blends. Some fish fry places use gluten-free corn meal batter but fry the fish in gluten fryers. Other places use dedicated fryers, which keeps the fish gluten-free.

Some Mexican restaurants use one fryer for corn products and another for wheat. Assuming the corn products are gluten-free (yes, corn tortillas can contain wheat, though they rarely do in restaurants), and they are cooked in a corn product fryer, they would be considered gluten-free. Many Mexican restaurants use the same fryer for both corn and wheat foods so you’ll need to ask before consuming anything from a fryer when dining out for this cuisine.

Below are some of the national restaurant chains that offer gluten-free French fries in some or all of their locations -

  • Ted’s Montana Grill – *rolling out to all locations
  • Chick-Fil-A
  • McDonald’s -*despite the controversy that surrounds fries from this chain, the fries and hash browns are considered gluten-free   
  • Five Guys Burgers
  • Cheeseburger in Paradise
  • Margaritaville – *not all locations
  • Outback Steakhouse – only the Roswell, GA location

When it comes to eating anything cooked in a fryer when dining out, it’s always best to ask the right questions before ordering fried foods. 

For more infomation about safe French fries, please read the Savvy Celiac’s post about them here and Dr. Stephen Wangen’s post here (though Burger Kings in my area do not have dedicated fryers).

Have a question about the gluten-free diet which we haven’t covered yet?  You can now submit your questions here! (Note: All medical questions should be directed to your physician)

Article Written by:

Tiffany is considered a gluten-free advocate as well as the most discriminating gluten-free diner around. Her goal is to help others learn that there is life after a celiac diagnosis. Gluten-free dining and travel are two of her favorite things to do. Tiffany is a contributing writer and the Advertising Manager at "Delight gluten free" magazine. Check out her local blog, Gluten-Free Atlanta, for tips and tricks about living gluten-free in the ATL! Follow Tiffany on Twitter!

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  • http://bisscottys.blogspot.com Scotty

    McDonald’s??? The FRIES may be gluten-free but the OIL has a gluten additive to it for flavoring purposes! Thus, the final product would NOT be gluten-free! EVERYONE I know with gluten issues has had problems with McD’s fries!

  • http://www.celiac-disease.com Tiffany Janes

    Due to the processing of the oil, there is no gluten left in the final product. Everyone I know with gluten issues routinely eats their fries without issue. Though I’ll eat them in a pinch (also without issue) I don’t think MD’s fries are very good. They don’t seem to have much potato in them anymore. Their hashbrowns are much better than the fries.

    The truth is the MD’s massive legal department got so tired of people in the gf community ranting about the fryer oil issue, they took them off their gf list, even though they had multiple tests that showed no gluten in fries or hashbrowns. The reason they put them on the gf list in the first place was because they had been tested and shown to be gluten-free. MD’s has no reason to pretend the products were gluten-free. They can survive without every gluten-free person’s business, no doubt. But when there was talk of a class action lawsuit about the issue, they did the smart thing and changed their tune about the fries, clearly listing wheat and milk as ingredients (required by law) AND removing them from their gluten-free list. There is such a thing as gluten-free products that somewhere along the way are derived from gluten ingredients. Things that come to mind are alcohols distilled from gluten grains, distilled vinegar and Tastes Like Real Food baking mixes (contains wheatstarch).

    People that have problems with the fries at MD’s might have other interolerances or more likely, their MD’s is not using a dedicated fryer. The corparate office has mandated that dedicated fryers be used at all locations but I’m sure no one from corporate is running around to each store to make sure this is done. That’s why it’s always a good idea to ask if the fries are cooked in a dedicated fryer before ordering them. Obviously, people can avoid anything they choose to.

  • Sue GF 4 Life

    Hi, I just wanted to point something out on this blog – I have the ingrediant list from McDonald’s and they list wheat in their fries – has it been proven wrong?

    Here’s the ingrediant list I have from McDonald’s

    French Fries:

    Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid
    pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with
    TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent).
    CONTAINS: WHEAT AND MILK *(Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients).

  • Tiffany Janes

    Celiac Listserv post:

    Mr. Thorne states: “Whenever controversies or issues like the one about McD’s comes up I try to consult the experts for solid information. I emailed Cynthia Kupper who is a registered dietitian, executive director of the Gluten Intolerance Group and has worked with Outback (along with other companies) to develop gf menus.”

    From Cynthia Kupper: “This is a case of McDonalds following the letter of the law, but without the FDA having the exceptions in place – it is causing confusion. This is a perfectly safe ingredient. People should not be blasting McD for doing what they are told they have to do, but instead forcing the issue of the pan fry to file an exemption for their product. (notice that thus far the FDA has not made a ruling on any exemptions filed…that doesn’t help).

    Or of course the pan fry company could certify their product. This would mean they are regularly testing the product to show it’s purity. The law is good, but the cart was put before the horse.”

    Cynthia Kupper, RD, CD
    Executive Director
    Gluten Intolerance Group of NA
    15110 10 Ave SW, Ste A
    Seattle WA 98166-1820
    ——————————————————————

    McDonald’s Fries are “Gluten and Allergen Free,” According to Expert

    “We understand the concern that individuals in the Celiac community and others with food allergies may have regarding foods that meet their individual needs. That is why we are eager to provide them with the most factual information we can.

    “Scientific evaluation by one of the world’s leading experts on gluten sensitivity and allergenicity, Dr. Steven Taylor of the Food Allergy Research and Resource Program of the University of Nebraska, has confirmed again that our fries are gluten free and allergen free.

    “Based on this analysis, we believe the lawsuits filed are without legal merit.”

    Jack Daly, Senior Vice President, McDonald’s
    ————————————————————-

    Nothing about the fries at MD’s has changed since 1990 – except the fact that MD’s disclosed wheat on their label in 2006, due to the new allergen law that went into effect in Jan. 2006. There is no benefit for the company to mislead consumers. Each test that has been done shows there is not gluten in the oil after all the processing it goes through -before it even gets to the restaurants. MD’s doesn’t seem to care about our business anymore and I don’t blame them. Their feeling is that if we can’t understand that the oil is rendered gluten-free, we are free to not eat the fries or anything else there. I know people who don’t believe that distilled vinegar is gluten-free. It’s almost always distilled from gluten grains and it gluten-free. The largest risk when eating at MD”s is that the food is barely real and obviously someone could throw some chicken tenders in the dedicated fryer by mistake. Then the fries and hashbrowns would be unsafe due to cc issues. This would not be an issue if the FDA cared about our community because there would be laws about what you could and could not state was gluten-free. Right now it’s a voluntary process. It’s really embarrassing that the U.S. is so far behind so many countries on this issue.

  • Sam

    My theory on the fries and hashbrowns is this. I believe they are gluten-free when cooked and put on the rack to cool off. However, workers who have just handled bread, nuggets, etc. may quickly grab the fries, hashbrowns and come in contact with it. Remember these products are really greasy and surely pickup alot of the left over crap on the worker’s gloves. And if the worker actually puts the fries/browns into its container he is almost certainly going to handle the product putting it into the container. They have that thingy for the fries but the top ones always fall out so they have to cram them back in there with their hands. My feel is the grease picks up the bread particles much more easily from the workers gloves than something that isn’t so greasy. I have a mild intolerance though, so someone more severe is probably much more sensitive to this.

    • Jeremy Leslie

      I would just like to testify that I have worked at McDonalds for years as a celiac (Which sucks) and I have almost NEVER seen someone simply *Touch* fries for whatever reason. If we need to move them or remove nasty old fries from some crevice in the fry station, it’s done with the fry scoop. It’s just common sense. As for someone touching nuggets/etc and then handling your box/bag of fries, it’s only 5 seconds of effort to explain your intolerance and it’s necessary caution. Little late to the party here, but I hope this helps someone out there! I thought I was reacting to our fries too, but I recently discovered a soy intolerance.

  • http://www.glutenfreepromotions.com Tiffany Janes

    Very valid points about transfer issues – especially at fast food joints. I never liked the fries at MD’s (at least not when they started to taste like cardboard) anyway, but have enjoyed the hash browns at many locations (mostly when nothing else was available) since going gluten-free. I’ve never had a problem and have had them in five states. I didn’t believe a tiny bit of cc would affect me until I was doubled over in pain from it. I’m really glad I can tell if something is truly gluten-free just by eating it. I know many people that either don’t react quickly or who react days later and by then they don’t know what foods to question.

  • tsath

    Just in case anyone with celiac was tempted to risk McD’s tasty hash-browns after reading the info here, be aware that’s what I did and I had a moderate reaction. Took about 36 hours to stop having pain and diarrhea. Although the food is very tasty, its not worth the risk IMO.

  • http://glutenfreedairyfreenj.blogspot.com Jason

    Elevation Burger has dedicated friers as well (and they fry in olive oil). They’re in NY, NJ, PA, MD, VA, FL, and TX.

    Joe’s Crab Shack has them on their gf menu but no documentation on their website as far as dedicated frier and cross contamination (so I’d check before you go).

  • AJ Quick

    Ate McDonalds french fries last night (and ONLY the french fries) and have been having a good reaction to them today. Not Gluten Free.

  • Tm

    CYA

    FF’s and hashbrowns contain WHEAT per Mcdondald’s nutrition chart.

  • Gaukr

    yea!!!! McDonald’s hash brown can be GF !!! (just be sure to ask as a last check. )

    And my Celiac family regularly eats at Outback Steakhouse (aussie cheese fries = yum!!) Ask for the GF menu / items B-)