Does Zaxby’s Grilled chicken contain gluten?

Quick Answer

Zaxby’s grilled chicken does not contain gluten. Zaxby’s has confirmed that their grilled chicken is prepared without gluten-containing ingredients. However, there is a small risk of cross-contamination in the restaurant kitchen. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should exercise caution when eating at Zaxby’s.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue and more.

About 1% of the population has celiac disease, while 6-10% are estimated to have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. For these individuals, a strict lifelong gluten-free diet is required to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Gluten in the Zaxby’s Menu

Many menu items at Zaxby’s contain gluten:

  • Breaded chicken tenders, wings and sandwiches
  • Chicken fillet sandwiches
  • Chicken finger plates and meals
  • Chicken Cobb and Caesar salads (croutons)
  • Club sandwich
  • Sandwiches containing buns or bread
  • Waffle fries or Texas toast (cross-contamination)

However, Zaxby’s does offer some gluten-free choices:

  • Grilled chicken sandwich or dinner
  • Garden salads without croutons
  • Wings with GF sauce
  • Tossed salads with GF dressing

Zaxby’s notes that while these items are prepared without gluten-containing ingredients, cross-contamination can occur during preparation and cooking in common fryers.

Is Zaxby’s Grilled Chicken Really Gluten-Free?

According to Zaxby’s, their grilled chicken options are gluten-free. This includes the grilled chicken sandwich, grilled chicken salad and grilled chicken dinner plate.

The grilled chicken is marinated and cooked on a separate grill in the restaurant kitchen, away from any breaded or flour-coated products. Zaxby’s states their grilled chicken has been tested to verify it contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This is below the FDA standard for gluten-free labeling.

However, the grilled chicken is cooked in the same kitchen as other menu items containing gluten. Shared cooking and preparation areas increase the risk of cross-contamination through shared utensils, residue on cooking surfaces, etc.

While the grilled chicken itself does not contain gluten, trace amounts could potentially get introduced during the cooking process. This small amount of gluten could be problematic for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Risk of Cross-Contamination at Zaxby’s

Here are some ways gluten cross-contamination can occur at Zaxby’s:

  • Fryers used for breaded chicken and waffle fries may introduce trace gluten to oil
  • Grills and utensils also used for sandwiches with buns
  • Employees handling gluten-containing buns, tenders, etc
  • Shared prep areas and surfaces
  • Reusing utensils for gluten and gluten-free orders

While Zaxby’s takes precautions to prevent cross-contamination, it can be difficult to fully eliminate in a busy restaurant environment. Even a small amount of gluten can trigger issues in sensitive individuals.

How Much Gluten is Safe?

For individuals with celiac disease, ingesting small amounts of gluten over time can cause intestinal damage. The limit for gluten-free labeling in the U.S. is 20 ppm, but studies show celiac patients can react to levels as low as 10 ppm.

People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity may tolerate trace amounts of gluten. But many aim to eliminate gluten exposure as much as possible to manage symptoms. The amount of gluten that can be tolerated varies greatly among individuals in this group.

Since the exact gluten content of grilled chicken dishes at Zaxby’s is unknown and varies, people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should use their own judgement on whether to consume it. Being aware of the risk of cross-contamination is important.

How to Order Gluten-Free at Zaxby’s

If you avoid gluten for medical reasons, here are some tips for ordering safely at Zaxby’s:

  • Ask for grilled chicken sandwich or dinner, without the bun
  • Request fresh gloves to reduce handling contamination
  • Verify grilled chicken is prepared separately from breaded chicken
  • Order sauce, dressing and veggies on the side to reduce cross-contact
  • Check that salads have no croutons, fried toppings or breaded chicken
  • Ask if gluten-free fried chicken tenders are available
  • Specify that you need a gluten-free meal due to allergy

Be aware that gluten cross-contamination is always a possibility at Zaxby’s. Use your best judgment when deciding whether to eat there. Being open about your dietary needs can help the restaurant take extra precautions to accommodate them.

Gluten-Free Dining at Other Fast Food Chains

If you are looking for gluten-free fast food options, many national chains now offer gluten-free menus and procedures:

Restaurant Gluten-Free Offerings
Chick-fil-A Grilled chicken sandwiches and nuggets, salads, fruit cups, specialty dressings
Chipotle Tacos, burrito bowls, salads with corn tortillas or lettuce wrap
Five Guys Burgers or hot dogs wrapped in lettuce, fries cooked in dedicated fryer
In-N-Out Burgers or grilled cheese wrapped in lettuce, dedicated fryers for fries
Subway Salads, subs on gluten-free bread, dedicated prep areas and gloves
Wendy’s Baked potatoes, chili, salads, frosties, grilled chicken sandwich in lettuce wrap

However, the same risk of cross-contamination applies at any restaurant with a shared kitchen. Communicating your dietary needs clearly is always important for gluten avoidance. Being selective when dining out is also recommended if you are highly sensitive.

Cooking Gluten-Free Zaxby’s Copycat Meals at Home

Another way to enjoy Zaxby’s flavors safely is to recreate gluten-free versions at home. Here are some recipe ideas:

Gluten-Free Grilled Chicken Sandwich

  • Chicken breast marinated in lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper
  • Grill until cooked through and char marks appear
  • Serve on a toasted gluten-free bun with preferred condiments
  • Pair with a side salad or gluten-free fries

Gluten-Free Fried Chicken Tenders

  • Slice chicken breasts into strips
  • Marinate in buttermilk, salt and pepper
  • Dredge strips in gluten-free flour mixture
  • Fry in clean oil until browned and crispy
  • Toss in GF Buffalo wing sauce (if desired)
  • Serve with ranch or blue cheese dip

Gluten-Free Chicken Finger Salad

  • Make gluten-free fried chicken tenders or grilled chicken
  • Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces
  • Toss with salad greens, vegetables, shredded cheese
  • Drizzle with desired gluten-free dressing

When cooking at home, you can control ingredients and avoid cross-contact. Preparing Zaxby’s-inspired meals also costs a fraction of takeout. With some adjustments, you can still satisfy your cravings on a gluten-free diet.

Is Eating at Zaxby’s Worth the Risk?

For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating at Zaxby’s comes with some risk due to the potential for cross-contamination. Dining out at any restaurant with a shared kitchen carries a degree of uncertainty.

Some individuals choose to avoid Zaxby’s and similar chains altogether to eliminate gluten exposure. People who are highly sensitive or recently diagnosed may prefer this approach, especially when first transitioning to the gluten-free diet.

However, many people do choose to eat at Zaxby’s occasionally by being selective with menu items and communicating with staff. They accept a small degree of risk to enjoy the food. This is a personal choice that depends on individual sensitivity levels and comfort.

No restaurant can guarantee 100% no cross-contact. By being informed, advocating for your needs, and making mindful menu choices, you may be able to eat at Zaxby’s successfully. But there will always be some uncertainty about trace gluten.

Key Takeaways on Zaxby’s and Gluten

Here are some key summary points about eating gluten-free at Zaxby’s:

  • Zaxby’s grilled chicken options are prepared without gluten-containing ingredients
  • However, risk of cross-contamination with trace gluten exists in the shared kitchen
  • Fried menu items, chicken salads, sandwiches are higher risk due to breading or sauces
  • Being clear with staff about gluten allergy needs helps reduce risk
  • Individual sensitivity levels vary – some may tolerate trace gluten better than others
  • Safest options are grilled chicken without bun, salads with GF dressing, and wings with GF sauce
  • Gluten-free home cooking allows greater control over ingredients and contact

The Verdict on Eating at Zaxby’s with Gluten Sensitivity

While Zaxby’s grilled chicken sandwiches likely contain very little gluten, a gluten-free claim cannot be made definitively due to potential cross-contact in kitchens and variations between locations. Cautious eating is advised, especially for those highly sensitive. Communicate needs clearly with staff and evaluate your own tolerance and comfort levels. Or opt for homemade versions to enjoy Zaxby’s flavors safely.

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