When you suffer from Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, eating out can be risky, particularly at fast food restaurants. I came across a recent post by Amy Ratner, the editor of Gluten-Free Living magazine which discussed McDonald’s French fries, that I thought you may find interesting. (This is from the September/ October 2013 issue)
Information on McDonald’s fries has not changed since we last reported on the topic in 2009. McDonald’s par fries the French fries in oil that contains beef flavoring made with a derivative of wheat. An ingredient list on the McDonald’s website clearly notes the wheat in a “Contains” statement.
That’s all the information you’ll find, though. The company stopped maintaining a list of gluten-free menu items in 2006 shortly after it first disclosed the use of the beef flavor and a gluten-free controversy erupted. At that time, McDonald’s said it has tested both the par fry oil and the finished fries and found them to contain less than 3 parts per million of gluten. This was confirmed by independent testing. Now the company does not mention the testing and refers customers with any questions about the gluten-free diet to the Celiac Spruce Association (CSA). McDonald’s did not reply to our request for further information.
When McDonald’s first detailed the use of wheat in the flavoring, CSA and the Gluten Intolerance Group issued statements saying the fries were gluten-free based on testing results. But when we last reported on the fries, the groups had backed away from those statements. Instead they said they can only report on what McDonald’s says, which is that the fries and hash browns contain wheat.
Like many aspects of the gluten-free diet, the decision regarding McDonald’s fries is a personal one. You have to weigh whether you think it’s safe to eat a product labeled as containing wheat. Your decision also has to take into account the fact that the par fry oil has been tested repeatedly over a number of years and found to contain a level of gluten content less than the amount that the Food and Drug Administration has proposed allowing in foods labeled gluten-free.
And you have to take into account cross-contamination that can occur if the fries or hash browns are fried in the same oil as McDonald’s breaded products.