Subway is one of the largest fast food chains in the world, with restaurants in over 100 countries. Many people enjoy Subway’s sandwiches, salads, and sides for a quick meal on the go. However, for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating at Subway can be challenging due to the risk of cross-contamination with gluten-containing ingredients.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at what gluten-free options Subway offers for guests looking to avoid gluten. We’ll go over Subway’s gluten-free sandwich choices, salads, sides, and procedures for safely preparing gluten-free meals. We’ll also look at what changes Subway has made over the years to expand safe gluten-free choices.
Does Subway Offer Any Gluten-Free Bread or Wraps?
The centerpiece of any Subway sandwich is the bread or wrap holding the fillings together. Unfortunately, Subway does not offer any gluten-free bread options for sandwiches at this time. All of their breads, including Italian white, 9-grain wheat, honey oat, and wraps contain gluten.
Many guests wish that Subway would expand their menu to include a gluten-free bun or wrap alternative. Some other fast-food chains, like Burger King, offer gluten-free buns to allow more choices for diners avoiding gluten. However, Subway has not yet added a gluten-free bread substitute to their menu.
Without this option, those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance must avoid Subway sandwiches altogether and look to other menu items instead.
Gluten-Free Salad and Protein Options at Subway
While Subway sandwiches are off the menu for gluten-free diners, there are still some good options to choose from at Subway. Specifically, Subway’s salads, protein add-ons, and some condiments can fit into a gluten-free diet:
Subway offers a variety of salads, including:
- Black Forest Ham Salad
- Buffalo Chicken Salad
- Chicken Caesar Salad
- Greek Salad
- Italiano Salad
- Oven Roasted Chicken Salad
- Roast Beef Salad
- Rotisserie-Style Chicken Salad
- Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Salad
- Turkey and Bacon Salad
- Veggie Delite Salad
These salad bases are gluten-free friendly. Be sure to avoid croutons or tortilla strips as topoff options, as these contain gluten. Stick to gluten-free veggie mix-ins and proteins.
Subway allows you to top their salads off with your choice of protein. Opt for gluten-free proteins like:
- Grilled Chicken Strips
- Rotisserie-Style Chicken
- Oven Roasted Chicken Breast
- Turkey Breast
- Roast Beef
Subway’s tuna salad, seafood and crab salad, and egg white patties also appear to be gluten-free based on ingredients.
Avoid ingredients like pepperoni and meatballs, which may contain gluten as a filler or binder.
To add more flavor to your salad or protein, stick to oil and vinegar dressings and gluten-free condiments like:
- Yellow Mustard
- Spicy Brown Mustard
- Hot Sauce
- Buffalo Sauce
- Sweet Onion Sauce
- Chipotle Southwest Sauce
- Honey Mustard Sauce
- Subway Vinaigrette
- Red Wine Vinaigrette
Avoid choices like teriyaki glaze, barbeque sauce, and creamy dressings which may contain soy sauce, malt vinegar, and thickening agents that include gluten.
Potential Sources of Cross-Contamination
While many Subway menu items look gluten-free at first glance, cross-contamination is a major concern for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Here are some common hazards when ordering at Subway:
Shared Preparation Areas and Utensils
Even if you order a salad or protein with gluten-free ingredients, cross-contamination can occur:
- Employees may cut or prepare salads and gluten-free meats using the same areas, knives, and gloves where bread is prepared.
- Cutting boards, counters, sinks, and preparation areas may not be properly sanitized between uses.
- Tongs used for gluten-free chicken or meat may also be used for bread and wraps.
For those extremely sensitive, even tiny crumbs or traces of gluten can trigger a reaction.
Subway uses shared toasters to heat sandwiches and subs. As employees toast various bread options in the toasters, gluten particles can get dispersed in the air and settle on surfaces nearby. This means salad ingredients prepared or waiting near active toasters have a high chance of cross-contamination.
Cheese and Sauces
Many Subway locations store shredded cheese and sauces for sandwiches and subs in open containers near registers. Employees may accidentally dip into a gluten-containing cheese or sauce when preparing a gluten-free order.
How to Order Gluten-Free at Subway Safely
Despite some risks, it is possible to safely order gluten-free meals at Subway. Here are some tips:
Avoid Busy Times
Visit during off-peak hours when kitchen surfaces and tools have had more time to be thoroughly sanitized between orders. Avoid chaotic rush times with lots of sandwich prep happening.
Start with Safe Ingredients
Build your salad or protein bowl starting with raw vegetables and proteins. Ask them to avoid lettuce or veggies pre-portioned near the sandwiches.
Request New Utensils and Gloves
Ask the Subway employee to wash hands, put on new gloves, and use newly unwrapped utensils to prepare your order. This helps prevent cross-contamination from other ingredients and meals.
Avoid Salad Ingredients Near Toasters
Salad ingredients placed close to active sandwich toasters have a high chance of being exposed to airborne gluten. Opt for ingredients stored far away from wheat-based sandwich prep.
Hold the Cheese and Sauce
Skipping the cheese and sauce eliminates risk of contamination from food stored near bread and sandwiches. Bring your own gluten-free dressing or sauce packets if desired.
Wash Your Own Produce
If available, wash your own raw veggies for salads using new gloves. This prevents risk from potentially contaminated communal vegetable trays.
Use Dedicated Areas and Tools
Some proactive Subway locations set aside certain areas, tools, and gloves specifically for gluten-free orders. Ask if they take these precautions to reduce cross-contamination.
Know the Menu Details
Carefully review ingredient labels and prep procedures for menu items. Be aware of sauces, seasonings, and foods that may contain hidden gluten sources.
Explain Your Needs
Politely explain to Subway staff that you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Most employees want to help customers with food allergies stay safe.
Subway’s Gluten-Free Changes and Improvements Over the Years
Subway has made some positive changes over the years to improve their gluten-free options and procedures:
Gluten-Free Menu Category on Website
In 2013, Subway launched a dedicated gluten-free menu category on their website highlighting menu items that customers can potentially customize to be gluten-free. This makes it easier for guests to see their options.
Employee Allergen Training
Subway has increased training programs to educate staff about major allergens like wheat and gluten and how to avoid cross-contamination. Many staff now better understand the needs of gluten-free guests.
Gluten-Free Sandwiches (Discontinued)
For a brief time between 2012 to 2014, Subway locations in Texas and California tested offering gluten-free bread specifically for gluten-free sandwich builds. However, the test pilot program ended and the gluten-free bread was discontinued systemwide.
Precautionary Allergen Labeling
In recent years, Subway introduced advisory allergen labeling on menus and packaging indicating when major allergens like wheat are present in ingredients. This helps gluten-free guests make informed decisions.
Improved Ingredients Sourcing
Subway has removed some ambiguous ingredients and modified recipes to streamline allergen considerations. For example, azodicarbonamide bread dough conditioner was removed systemwide in 2014.
Commitment to Allergen-Free Customization
Despite some challenges, Subway has publicly stated they are committed to working with gluten-free guests to safely customize orders. They aim to continue improving allergen training and procedures.
Top Gluten-Free Orders and Menu Hacks at Subway
Within the limitations of Subway’s current gluten-free options, here are some popular “hacks” customers have come up with to add variety:
Build a salad with your choice of greens, then add slices of protein on top to mimic a sandwich. For example, stack lunchmeat turkey and ham atop spinach leaves.
Use large lettuce leaves like romaine as gluten-free “wraps” around sandwich fillings. For example, fill a romaine leaf with spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, and chicken strips for a wrap.
Request edamame beans added into your salad for extra protein, fiber, crunch, and nutrition. You can also add edamame to any veggies and proteins in a bowl.
Salads as Bowls
Rather than ordering salad mix greens as the base, ask for veggie sides and protein atop a bed of spinach or lettuce. Then drizzle olive oil and balsamic for flavor.
Add slices of fresh avocado to any salad, bowl, or platter. Season with salt, pepper, and a dash of olive oil for added creaminess.
Want extra protein? Double it up by asking for two scoops of your favorite gluten-free proteins like grilled chicken, rotisserie chicken, or turkey with your vegetables.
Bring Your Own Dressing
Carry your own stash of pre-packaged gluten-free salad dressings or sauces in your bag. That way, you can safely flavor your meal without worries.
Are the Subway Restaurants Precautions Enough?
For those simply avoiding gluten, Subway’s procedures and customized orders are likely sufficient to eliminate sources of gluten. But for guests with celiac disease or severe wheat allergies, Subway’s approach to cross-contamination may still be too risky.
Some concerns remaining include:
- No dedicated gluten-free prep space in kitchen
- No separate gluten-free menu or ingredients
- Shared equipment and areas with high risk of crumbs
- Heavy reliance on employee knowledge of processes
- High turnover of employees makes training hard to maintain
- Busy, hectic environments prone to mistakes
For those reasons among others, some opt to stay away from Subway entirely as a precaution if they have celiac disease or other health conditions requiring strict gluten avoidance.
Gluten-Free Options at Other Sandwich Chains
Subway isn’t the only sandwich chain around. If you are looking for gluten-free bread options, other well-known chains may be a safer bet than Subway:
Jersey Mike’s offers gluten-free wraps and bread. However, they are not produced in a 100% gluten-free facility, so cross-contact is still possible.
At participating locations, Jimmy John’s offers gluten-free bread called Udi’s Gluten Free. It contains dairy and eggs, however, so it’s not suitable for vegans.
Select Firehouse Subs offer gluten-free bread from Against the Grain. Call ahead to see if your local Firehouse Subs has it in stock.
Jason’s Deli offers gluten-free bread, buns, rolls, and wraps. Their sandwich ingredients tend to be simpler and less processed than Subway.
Capriotti’s provides gluten-free roll options for their sub sandwiches. However, cross-contamination may still be an issue so caution is advised.
McAlister’s Deli has a gluten-free menu featuring sandwiches on gluten-free bread, lettuce wraps, meals, and desserts. Dedicated prep areas reduce contamination concerns.
Are Gluten-Free Subway Orders Worth the Risk?
At the end of the day, whether Subway is “safe enough” comes down to your personal tolerance levels and reaction severity. Here are some factors to consider:
- How sensitive are you to trace gluten? Severe reactions warrant more caution.
- Do you have additional food intolerances like soy or dairy that complicate ordering?
- How comfortable are you requesting special prep and communicating your needs?
- Does your local Subway seem knowledgeable and willing to accommodate you?
- Are you able to visit during off-peak hours?
- Are there less risky gluten-free options conveniently available to you?
As a whole, Subway’s current model and precautions fall more on the “not gluten-free enough for celiacs” end of the spectrum according to many customer reviews. But with extra care, customization, and communication, some gluten-free guests feel comfortable eating modified Subway orders without reaction.
Thisultimately comes down to your individual health history and risk factors. Understanding Subway’s menu options, procedures, and limitations allows you to make an informed decision.
The Bottom Line
So does Subway offer anything gluten-free? The answer is…kind of.
While Subway’s signature sandwiches and breads are off the menu for the gluten-free diners, salads, veggies, and proteins can potentially be customized into gluten-free meals. This requires careful ordering, awareness of cross-contamination risks, and communication with staff.
Many with celiac disease or wheat allergies opt not to eat at Subway due to shared prep areas with sandwich ingredients. But less sensitive gluten-avoiders may be able to enjoy modified Subway orders they feel comfortable with.
Hopefully in the future, Subway will continue expanding their gluten-free offerings and procedures to open up more options for guests. Other chains already offer gluten-free breads and wraps, so there is certainly room for Subway to improve. But for now, the choice is ultimately up to each gluten-free customer whether the current offerings fit into their diet and comfort levels. Careful consideration of individual health factors and needs is advised.