Are Panera warm bowls gluten free?

Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people choosing to avoid gluten for health, dietary, or personal reasons. For those who follow a gluten-free diet, eating out can be challenging as many menu items contain gluten. Panera Bread offers a variety of gluten-free options, including their selection of Warm Bowls. But are these Warm Bowls really gluten-free?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headache, fatigue and more. A gluten-free diet, which avoids all foods and ingredients containing gluten, is the only treatment for celiac disease. The gluten-free diet is also often adopted by those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity to alleviate symptoms. Wheat, barley and rye – along with derivatives of these grains – must all be eliminated on a strict gluten-free diet.

Panera’s Gluten-Free Offerings

Panera has worked to accommodate those seeking gluten-free options with a selection of items marked “gluten-free” on their menus. This includes soups, salads, sandwiches, pastries and more. They also offer a range of specially-formulated gluten-free bread options. However, those with celiac disease know that “gluten-free” claims should always be taken with a grain of salt. While an item may be labeled gluten-free, there is always a risk of cross-contamination if the facility also handles gluten-containing ingredients.

Are Panera Warm Bowls Gluten Free?

Panera Warm Bowls are a selection of hearty bowls featuring grains, veggies and proteins topped with savory sauces. Options include bowls like the Thai Curry Rice Bowl, Moroccan Chicken Bowl and Baja Grain Bowl. But can you safely eat these if you follow a gluten-free diet? Let’s take a closer look.

Rice Bowls

The Thai Curry Rice Bowl and Baja Grain Bowl feature rice as the base grain. Rice is naturally gluten-free, so these bowls can be eaten on a gluten-free diet provided no cross-contamination occurs. Keep in mind that even though the rice is gluten-free, other ingredients mixed in could potentially contain gluten. The chicken and vegetables should be safe, but sauces and seasonings may contain questionable ingredients like soy sauce, malt vinegar or hydrolyzed wheat protein. Check with the restaurant to find out exactly what goes into each bowl.

Quinoa Bowls

Bowls with quinoa like the Mediterranean Quinoa Bowl are also based around a naturally gluten-free grain. Pure, uncontaminated quinoa does not contain gluten. But again, it’s important to verify that the quinoa has been handled properly and stored away from any gluten-containing grains. The vegetables and chicken can likely be eaten safely as well, but verify that no potentially gluteny ingredients are in the sauces and seasonings.

Ancient Grain & Lentil Bowls

Options like the Ancient Grain & Lentil Bowl and Moroccan Chicken Bowl feature a blend of grains like farro, spelt, barley, Kamut and lentils. These are not gluten-free ingredients. In fact, barley contains gluten and is generally restricted along with wheat on a gluten-free diet. Even small amounts of these grains could be an issue for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Cross-contamination may also occur if the facility handles these bowls alongside gluten-free offerings.

Cross-Contamination Risk

Even if a particular bowl is made up of naturally gluten-free ingredients like quinoa and vegetables, there is always a risk of cross-contamination occurring. If the same surfaces, utensils and equipment are used to prepare both gluten-containing and gluten-free menu items, traces of gluten could make their way into an otherwise gluten-free dish. Those with celiac disease usually need to strictly avoid any cross-contamination at all while some with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be able to tolerate small amounts.

How to Order a Gluten-Free Warm Bowl at Panera

If you require a strictly gluten-free meal, your best bet is to customize one of the rice or quinoa bowls, omitting any sauces or seasonings that may contain gluten. Here are some tips for ordering:

  • Choose a rice or quinoa base – avoid grain blends that could contain gluten
  • Ask for no sauces or dressings since these may contain hidden gluten
  • Opt for fresh vegetable toppings like spinach, tomatoes, onions, peppers
  • Stick to proteins like grilled chicken breast or seed-based toppings
  • Request that your bowl is prepared in a clean container and separate from gluten-containing ingredients
  • Ask if there is any risk of cross-contamination

Keep in mind that without sauces or seasonings, your bowl may come out a little plain. Consider bringing your own gluten-free dressings or sauces to add flavor. You can also spice it up with ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and fresh herbs.

Speak with a Manager

If you frequent a particular Panera location often, it’s a good idea to speak with a manager directly. Explain your gluten-free needs and ask about their training protocols for gluten-free orders. Inquire about how they store and prepare gluten-free grains like rice and quinoa. A knowledgeable, accommodating staff can make you feel more confident that your meal will be safely prepared.

Are Panera Warm Bowls Celiac-Safe?

For those with celiac disease, it’s especially important to determine if eating at Panera Bread entails a high risk of cross-contamination. While some menu items may be safely gluten-free as prepared, many do contain gluten and are processed in the same facilities. According to, Panera Bread does not consider any of their menu items safe for celiac disease and states:

“We do not consider any of our menu items to be gluten-free, but many of our menu items can be modified to accommodate a gluten-free diet. While we work hard to avoid cross-contact, we cannot guarantee that cross-contact with wheat, rye, barley, spelt and/or oats will not occur.”

This means those with celiac disease would likely face a significant risk of cross-contamination when ordering any item, including Warm Bowls.

Celiac Safe Protocol

Panera does have a Celiac Safe protocol in place for those who require an extra strict level of precaution when ordering gluten-free:

  • New gloves are used by staff
  • Items are prepared using dedicated kitchen tools
  • Gluten-free items are bagged and served separately
  • Orders are labeled with a special Celiac ticket

However, keep in mind that even with these extra steps, Panera still does not guarantee your meal will be 100% gluten-free or without any cross-contact. Proceed with caution and speak to staff to assess your level of comfort on a case by case basis.

Are Panera Warm Bowls Safe for Gluten Sensitivity?

Those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be able to tolerate small amounts of cross-contamination and still eat Warm Bowls relatively safely. How much gluten you can handle without reaction varies greatly among individuals with NCGS. Some report reacting to traces of 20ppm while others remain symptom-free up to a threshold of 5,000ppm or more. Work with your healthcare provider to determine your personal tolerance level.

If you know you can handle small gluten exposures without issue, you may be able to eat at Panera by taking some basic precautions:

  • Stick to rice and quinoa bowls
  • Ask about shared equipment
  • Modify bowl toppings to avoid sauces
  • Request change of gloves and clean containers
  • Go during off-peak hours to reduce cross-contact risks

Pay close attention to how you feel afterwards and avoid Panera if any symptoms occur. Be sure to fill up on other safe gluten-free foods at home just in case the Warm Bowl exposes you to some gluten.

Other Tips for Eating Gluten-Free at Panera

In addition to customizing a Warm Bowl to make it gluten-free, there are other ways to safely eat at Panera Bread while avoiding gluten:

  • Salads – Create your own salad and avoid croutons and dressings
  • Breakfast – Order gluten-free oatmeal or an egg sandwich on gluten-free bread
  • Gluten-Free Bagel – Try a gluten-free bagel with cream cheese or avocado spread
  • Broth Bowls – Opt for broth-based soups and avoid noodles or bread on top
  • Sandwiches – Choose sandwich fillings and get them on gluten-free bread
  • Mac & Cheese – Ask for the gluten-free mac & cheese version

Just remember to confirm that all ingredients and preparation surfaces are gluten-free when ordering. Also consider downloading the Panera app for easy customization and ordering ahead to reduce wait times.

The Bottom Line

While Panera does offer some gluten-free options and meals can be modified, there is still a relatively high risk of cross-contamination according to their own assessment. Those with celiac disease would be safest avoiding Panera Warm Bowls and other menu items altogether or proceed very cautiously by using their Celiac Safe protocol. For people with NCGS who can tolerate small amounts of exposure, Warm Bowls may be able to be eaten infrequently by confirming preparation details and taking basic precautions. Overall, those with celiac disease or who are highly sensitive have much safer choices for dining out gluten-free. But with customization and care, some individuals may be able to enjoy Panera Warm Bowls as an occasional gluten-free meal option when in a pinch.

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