Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine’s lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients. This can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea. The only treatment for celiac disease is following a strict lifelong gluten-free diet by avoiding foods and products containing gluten. With proper management of a gluten-free diet, most people with celiac disease can lead normal, healthy lives.
What is Del Taco?
Del Taco is an American fast food chain specializing in American-style Mexican fare like tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and nachos. They have over 600 locations across 15 states. Their menu features tacos with hard or soft shells, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, fries, jalapeño poppers, desserts like churros and cookies, and beverage options like soft drinks, horchata, shakes, and beer and wine in some locations. Del Taco advertises many vegan, vegetarian, and lower carb options. They also promote substitute options like lettuce wraps instead of taco shells or burrito tortillas.
Can People with Celiac Disease Safely Eat at Del Taco?
Yes, people with celiac disease have gluten-free options when dining at Del Taco. However, great care must be taken to avoid cross-contamination with items containing gluten. Del Taco does not have separate prep areas or cooking equipment for gluten-free items. Their kitchens and ingredients are shared, increasing the risk of cross-contamination. But they do offer a variety of gluten-free menu options if ordered carefully.
Gluten-Free Menu Items at Del Taco
Here are some of the gluten-free options available at Del Taco:
- Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or nachos with corn tortillas instead of flour tortillas
- Protein options like grilled chicken, carne asada steak, Al pastor pork, ground beef, or fresh avocado
- Lettuce wrap tacos or burritos instead of taco shells or tortillas
- Crunchy or soft tacos with just the filling
- Chips and guacamole
- Onions, tomatoes, salsa, cilantro, lettuce as toppings
- Side salads with vinaigrette dressing
- Fresh Cut Fruit Cup
How to Order Gluten-Free at Del Taco
When ordering at Del Taco, follow these tips for a gluten-free meal:
- Request corn tortillas, lettuce wraps, or tacos/burritos with no shell
- Avoid flour tortillas, taco shells, tortilla chips
- Choose grilled chicken, steak, pork, veggies for fillings
- Verify no sauce or seasonings containing soy sauce or wheat
- Request food prep change, fresh gloves to reduce cross-contact
- Double check order when served to ensure no mistakes
What Menu Items at Del Taco Contain Gluten?
While Del Taco has gluten-free options, many menu items contain gluten and must be avoided with celiac disease. Here are some of the items containing gluten ingredients:
- Flour tortillas
- Crunchy taco shells
- Tortilla chips
- Beer battered fish tacos or shrimp tacos
- Soy sauce
- Teriyaki marinade or sauce
- Seasonings or marinades containing wheat, barley, malt
- Flour sauce thickeners like roux
Risk of Cross-Contamination at Del Taco
Even when ordering gluten-free menu items at Del Taco, there is a risk of cross-contamination occurring. This means gluten could accidentally get into your food during prep or cooking. Sources of cross-contamination include:
- Shared cooking equipment like fryers, grills, food bins
- Food prep surfaces, cutting boards, utensils
- Staff not changing gloves or washing hands between orders
- Reusing tongs, scoops between flour and corn tortillas
- Flour tortillas warmed on same surface as corn
- Burrito rollers used for flour and corn tortillas
Del Taco does not offer separate gluten-free prep areas. While they will change gloves or prep surface upon request, shared equipment is still a hazard. Each location’s awareness of celiac disease may vary. Exercising caution is key when eating at any restaurant with a kitchen open to gluten ingredients.
Tips for Safely Eating at Del Taco with Celiac Disease
If you have celiac disease, here are some tips to reduce your risk of gluten exposure when eating at Del Taco:
- Study the menu carefully and know which items are gluten-free
- Tell the cashier you have celiac disease and need gluten-free preparation
- Request fresh gloves, utensils, clean surface to reduce cross-contact
- Only order corn tortillas or lettuce wrap shells, no flour products
- Avoid obvious gluten ingredients like soy sauce and flour thickeners
- Check your order before leaving and re-check at home
- Consider risk of staff errors and cross-contamination
- Watch for symptoms after eating in case reaction occurs
Del Taco’s Allergen and Nutrition Information
Del Taco provides some allergen and nutritional information on their website and menus that can assist with ordering gluten-free choices. Their allergen menu identifies items that contain wheat, an ingredient celiacs must avoid. Their nutrition information details the ingredients and components in each menu item. Be sure to thoroughly research menu items of interest before ordering. If any questions remain about ingredients or preparation, speak directly with a manager for clarification. Do not make assumptions or guesses when it comes to your required gluten-free diet.
On their allergen menu, Del Taco identifies menu items that contain wheat—an essential thing for celiacs to know. Menu items containing wheat include:
- Crunchy tacos
- Soft tacos with flour tortillas
- Quesadillas with flour tortillas
- Burritos with flour tortillas
- Tortilla chips
- Pico de Gallo
- Green sauce
- Mild sauce
Any items without the wheat allergen icon should be wheat and gluten free. But it is still vital to check full ingredient information.
The nutrition information on Del Taco’s website provides complete ingredient lists and nutritional data for every menu item. This information can help identify gluten-containing ingredients. Pay close attention to allergens listed at the bottom of each item. Any ingredient with wheat like flour tortillas, batter coatings, thickeners, soy sauce, etc. must be avoided.
Here is a sample nutrition label for a Del Taco crunchy taco showing the presence of wheat in the ingredients:
In this case, the crunchy taco shell contains bleached wheat flour. That’s a clear sign this menu item is unsafe for celiacs.
Compare that to the nutrition label for Del Taco’s avocado taco with no shell:
With no taco shell and no flour tortilla, the avocado taco contains no wheat or gluten-based ingredients. The ingredients list shows only lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and avocado—all gluten-free.
Del Taco’s Training Policies on Food Allergies
According to Del Taco’s allergen training resources, they provide the following food allergy training to their restaurant employees:
- Training on the most common food allergens like wheat, milk, eggs, etc.
- Overview of celiac disease and gluten intolerance
- How to avoid cross-contact with allergens during food handling and prep
- Cleaning and sanitation procedures to prevent cross-contamination
- Steps to isolate allergen orders from prep to serving
- Communication with guests about food contents and preparation
While they offer training, how consistently and thoroughly it is implemented likely varies by location. Celiacs must still be very cautious when ordering.
Should You Trust Del Taco with Celiac Disease?
While Del Taco has gluten-free options, their kitchens have high risk of cross-contamination that may make their food unsafe for those with celiac disease or high sensitivity. There is no foolproof way to prevent cross-contact when wheat flour and corn flour tortillas share prep and cooking equipment. Use your best judgment when deciding whether to eat at Del Taco. Factors to consider include:
- How sensitive are you to small amounts of gluten cross-contact?
- Does this Del Taco location seem well-versed and trained on gluten-free prep?
- Does the staff seem to take food allergies and celiac disease seriously?
- Are you willing to risk symptoms from potential contamination?
Many celiacs choose to only eat at restaurants with dedicated gluten-free menus and prep areas to have peace of mind. While Del Taco makes an effort with gluten-free options and training, their shared kitchens remain high risk. Weigh your individual factors and risk tolerance when deciding where to safely eat with celiac disease.
The Bottom Line
In summary, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can eat some menu items at Del Taco, but need to be very careful. Corn tortillas, lettuce wraps, and naked tacos can all be made gluten-free. However, Del Taco’s use of shared equipment and ingredients means a likelihood of cross-contamination. Those highly sensitive should exercise caution when eating there. Be very familiar with the menu, ask detailed questions, and assess your own risk comfort level. While Del Taco is not an ideal choice for celiacs, with vigilance, some gluten-free options are available on their menu.
Other Mexican Chains and Celiac Disease
When comparing other popular Mexican fast food chains, a few brands stand out as safer choices for those avoiding gluten due to celiac disease. For example:
Chipotle Mexican Grill
Chipotle features a gluten-friendly menu and allergen resources to help customers safely order. All corn tortilla chips and tacos are certified gluten-free. They also offer lettuce wrap tacos and burritos.
Moe’s Southwest Grill
At Moe’s, corn tortillas and tortilla chips are prepared in separate fryers from wheat flour tortillas to prevent cross-contact. Moe’s staff change gloves and prep areas when handling gluten-free orders.
Qdoba Mexican Eats
Qdoba lists certified gluten-free menu items like corn tortilla tacos, lettuce wraps, guacamole, and chips cooked separately from wheat menu items.
These chains offer safer options for celiacs through dedicated spaces and equipment for corn and flour tortilla items. Their employees are also thoroughly trained on gluten-free preparation and preventing cross-contamination during food handling and service.
Other Celiac-Friendly Fast Food Options
In addition to Mexican-style chains, some other fast food restaurants also cater well to gluten-free diets for those with celiac disease. Options include:
In-N-Out offers lettuce wrap burgers and fries cooked in dedicated friers separate from breaded items. All spreads and cheese are gluten-free.
At Wendy’s, plain burgers or grilled chicken sandwiches allow gluten-free customization. Salads and baked potatoes are also safe gluten-free options.
Chick-Fil-A has gluten-free bun options, grilled nuggets and sandwiches, waffle fries cooked in dedicated fryers, and gluten-free dressings.
With healthy gluten-free choices like grilled meat, veggies, salads and designated fryers, these chains can be go-to picks for grab-and-go meals when living with celiac disease if ordered carefully.
Being Cautiously Optimistic About Dining Out with Celiac Disease
Despite the challenges, dining out gluten-free is possible with flexibility, research, and self-advocacy. Celiacs have to be their own best advocate when ordering at restaurants. While frustrating at times, the right questions and working with staff can open up safe menu choices. With care and communication, those with celiac disease can enjoy delicious dining experiences. Do your homework, ask questions, start a conversation, and savor every bite, knowing you are proactively taking care of yourself.