Gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people choosing to avoid gluten for medical reasons or simply as a lifestyle choice. For those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can cause serious health issues, so having gluten-free options at restaurants is extremely important.
One popular pizza chain that offers gluten-free crust is Papa John’s. With over 5,000 locations worldwide, Papa John’s advertises a gluten-free crust made without wheat, barley, or rye. But is their gluten-free pizza really safe for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It acts as a glue that helps breads keep their shape and have a chewy texture. For most people, consuming gluten is not a problem.
However, for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, fatigue, headache, and more. Avoiding gluten is the only treatment for celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.
Is Papa John’s Pizza Really Gluten-Free?
On their website and in stores, Papa John’s states that their gluten-free crust is made without wheat, barley, or rye. This would imply that it is safe for people who need to follow a gluten-free diet due to medical reasons.
However, many organizations and celiac disease experts warn that Papa John’s gluten-free crust is likely contaminated with gluten. This can occur if the same areas and utensils are used to make both gluten-free and regular crusts.
Papa John’s itself states on its website that the gluten-free pizzas are prepared in the same space as other pizzas. They do not have separate ovens and work areas specifically for gluten-free crusts. So cross-contamination is very likely.
Risk of Cross-Contamination
Several factors present a high risk of gluten cross-contamination at Papa John’s locations:
- No separate prep areas for gluten-free pizzas
- Same ovens used for gluten-free and regular crusts
- Shared utensils and cutting equipment
- Common risk of human error when handling different crusts
- High chance of airborne wheat flour particles contaminating area
With the high risk of cross-contamination, health organizations and experts warn that Papa John’s cannot be considered a truly gluten-free option for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
What the Experts Say
Many reputable celiac disease and gluten-free organizations caution against eating Papa John’s gluten-free pizza due to the risk of cross-contamination.
Celiac Disease Foundation
The Celiac Disease Foundation states that those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should use extreme caution when considering Papa John’s gluten-free pizza:
“Gluten-free pizza crusts from large gluten-containing pizza chains are typically not recommended for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity due to the risk of cross-contamination with gluten. Use extreme caution when considering gluten-free pizza from pizza restaurants, including Papa John’s.”
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness also warns against eating gluten-free pizza from pizza chains like Papa John’s unless customers have confirmation that there are proper protocols in place to avoid cross-contamination:
“Pizza restaurants, including large chains such as Papa John’s … are potentially subject to cross-contamination of their gluten-free pizza crusts. NFCA advises that individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should use caution when ordering gluten-free pizza unless pizza restaurants can confirm implementation of protocols to avoid gluten cross-contact.”
Beyond Celiac, one of the major celiac disease advocacy groups, states that Papa John’s cannot guarantee a gluten-free environment for their pizzas:
“Papa John’s does not recommend their gluten-free pizza for customers with celiac disease because the restaurant environment contains gluten and common kitchen areas/utensils are used.
The organization says those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance proceed at their own risk when choosing to consume Papa John’s gluten-free pizza.
What About Gluten-Free Certifications?
Some pizza chains like Domino’s have gluten-free certifications from organizations like the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), which require adherence to standards and protocols for avoiding cross-contamination.
However, Papa John’s gluten-free pizzas do NOT carry any gluten-free certifications from reputable third-party organizations. This is another red flag signaling that their gluten-free pizza cannot be considered truly gluten-free.
No GIG Certification
The Gluten Intolerance Group is one of the most trusted organizations for certifying gluten-free products and food establishments. They have a certification program specifically for restaurants to meet safety standards that minimize the risk of gluten exposure.
Papa John’s does NOT have GIG restaurant certification. If their gluten-free pizzas met requirements for being safely prepared, Papa John’s would ostensibly have applied for and received GIG certification.
No GFCO Certification
The Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) is another respected program providing third-party audits and certification for gluten-free safety. They certify products as well as food service establishments that meet protocols for safe gluten-free preparation.
Once again, Papa John’s has NO GFCO certification for their facilities or their gluten-free pizzas. The lack of GFCO certification further confirms that there is significant risk of gluten cross-contamination.
Should You Eat Papa John’s Gluten-Free Pizza?
Advice from experts and reputable health organizations is clear – Papa John’s gluten-free pizza cannot be considered truly gluten-free and poses a serious risk of gluten exposure for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
While Papa John’s states their crust contains no wheat, barley, or rye, the high probability of cross-contamination means their gluten-free pizza is not recommended for people who need to strictly follow a gluten-free diet for medical reasons.
Those with celiac disease should especially avoid Papa John’s gluten-free pizza due to the likelihood of trace amounts of gluten. Even tiny doses of gluten can trigger symptoms, intestinal damage, and other health problems.
For those who follow a gluten-free diet more loosely by choice, Papa John’s gluten-free pizza may be an occasional option if you are comfortable with the risks. Some people who are gluten-free without medical necessity may tolerate small amounts of gluten.
However, there is no guarantee about just how much gluten exposure might occur. So proceed with extreme caution if you choose to eat Papa John’s gluten-free pizza while gluten-free by choice.
Children & Teens with Celiac Disease
Children and teens with celiac disease following the gluten-free diet should absolutely avoid Papa John’s gluten-free pizza. Experts strongly advise sticking to verified gluten-free options to enable proper growth and development.
Here is a quick summary of recommendations regarding Papa John’s gluten-free pizza:
- Avoid at all costs if you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
- Not recommended if gluten-free for medical reasons
- May be risky if gluten-free by choice
- Not worth the gamble for kids/teens with celiac disease
Papa John’s simply cannot guarantee a gluten-free environment or pizza due to high risk of cross-contamination. Your safest bet is choosing a restaurant with proper gluten-free certifications.
Is Papa John’s Doing Anything to Improve Gluten-Free Offerings?
Papa John’s states on their website that they are working on expanding their gluten-free certification and improving procedures to provide safer gluten-free options in more locations.
However, progress seems slow. As of late 2022, Papa John’s only has 4 locations certified by the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) to meet gluten-free safety standards.
Out of over 5,000 Papa John’s locations, having just 4 officially GIG certified restaurants means gluten-free pizza is still extremely limited for customers who need to avoid gluten due to medical issues like celiac disease.
Very Few GIG Certified Locations
Here are the only Papa John’s locations currently certified by GIG as of November 2022:
|224 S. Bryant Ave, Edmond, OK
|Oklahoma City, OK
|5032 N. May Ave, Oklahoma City, OK
|Midwest City, OK
|6717 SE 15th St, Midwest City, OK
|802 S. Division St, Guthrie, OK
With only 4 GIG certified restaurants out of thousands of locations nationwide, the chances of having a Papa John’s with proper gluten-free protocols in your area are extremely low. This makes their “gluten-free” pizza an unreliable and risky choice.
Papa John’s has not provided a clear timeline for when they expect to expand GIG certification to more restaurants. Based on the slow pace so far, it could be many months or longer before certification reaches additional locations.
For customers needing truly gluten-free pizza, the long timeline means continuing to avoid Papa John’s until certification is more widespread. Relying on their uncertified gluten-free pizza will continue to pose a significant health risk.
How to Order as Safely as Possible
If you decide to proceed with caution in ordering Papa John’s gluten-free pizza, there may be steps to take to reduce cross-contamination as much as realistically possible:
- Order gluten-free pizzas first thing in the morning before much other dough and pizza prep has occurred
- Ask if they can clean counters and change gloves before preparing the gluten-free pie
- Request a clean cutter and baking sheet not used for regular pizzas if possible
- Avoid ordering extra toppings and stick to basic cheese pizza to minimize handling
However, even with these precautions, exposure to gluten cannot be ruled out. The safest choice is to avoid their gluten-free pizza altogether and choose a certified gluten-free restaurant instead.
Is Papa John’s Pizza Really Gluten-Free? The Verdict
When considering all information from health experts, celiac disease resources, and an analysis of Papa John’s protocols, the verdict is clear:
Papa John’s “gluten-free” pizza is very likely contaminated with gluten and NOT a truly gluten-free option for people with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or those who must eliminate gluten for other medical reasons.
While the crust may not contain wheat, barley, or rye, cross-contamination with gluten is extremely likely due to:
- No separate prep or cooking areas
- Shared work spaces and utensils
- Risk of human error
- Airborne wheat flour particles
The lack of any valid gluten-free certifications for their facilities and protocols confirms that Papa John’s has a long way to go before they can be considered safe for gluten-free diets.
The safest option for those with celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or who are gluten-free for other medical reasons is to avoid Papa John’s gluten-free pizza due to the risks.
Papa John’s restaurants advise customers with gluten issues to consume their gluten-free pizzas at their own risk. Until Papa John’s receives thorough gluten-free certification across more locations, their gluten-free offerings are best avoided.
The Takeaway on Papa John’s Gluten-Free Pizza
While Papa John’s markets a gluten-free pizza made without wheat, barley, or rye, it cannot be considered safe for people with celiac disease or gluten issues due to frequent cross-contamination. With no valid gluten-free certifications, limited procedures to avoid contamination, and a high risk environment, eating their gluten-free pizza poses potentially serious health consequences. Those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity should steer clear of Papa John’s gluten-free pizza and opt for a certified or dedicated gluten-free restaurant instead.