Gluten in McDonald's Fries--The Final Verdict

It's a wonder some people don't get whiplash by trying to keep up with the latest findings regarding the many controversial or unsettled health issues in the news. 

Sometimes the uncertainty arises from changing circumstances, new findings through health studies/surveys, public appeals or demonstrations (most often carried out these days through social media and Internet discussion forums), laws or policies put forth to address the issue (even if they often only further complicate the matter), or decisions at the corporate level which raise questions rather than provide definitive answers.

In an attempt to appease celiac disease sufferers and those with food allergen issues, for example, McDonald's launched an ambitious campaign to demonstrate that its fries (as well as its other foods) were relatively healthy and safe to eat.  Accordingly, they declared that there were gluten-free (GF) items on their menu; these items, they said, were not only gluten-free, but the company would make sure that official testing took place to prove that this was so. 

All those critics who had voiced serious concerns about McDonald's fries were, at last, silenced--or were they? 

Actually, it wasn't just McDonald's and the food testing companies that were certifying that the fries were officially gluten-free, there was also the new FDA's definition of what constituted "gluten-free."  Simply put, McDonald's fries, when tested, fell below the standard now established.

Why Didn't These Developments at Last Settle the Issue?

A number of things happened which, perhaps unintendedly, brought further confusion.  For starters, McDonalds voluntarily disclosed that the cooking process it used for its fries contained wheat and milk derived by-products.  Naturally, this announcement set off a massive outcry both from food safety experts/enthusiasts, as well as from the public.

"See, we told you--McDonald's fries were making some of us sick," many of them were saying in discussion forums; "these products (fries, hash browns, McNuggets, etc.) contain gluten and, even if the amount they contain are below the FDA's standard, what about cross-contamination?"

The concept of "cross-contamination," unfortunately, is the one issue that has raised the most lingering/troubling questions, as many of McDonald's critics and customers have correctly pointed out.

Why Is Cross-Contamination Such an Important Matter?

First of all:  What is cross-contamination?  The term refers to the ever-present (even in the best circumstances) potential of foods becoming contaminated by an ingredient not intended to be in prepared or packaged foods.  Such contamination in restaurants can occur through a number of channels: 

  • Food handlers/preparers not washing their hands or failing to wear gloves after working with or touching foods containing gluten
  • Workers not changing gloves as they alternate between GF and gluten-containing foods
  • Not using dedicated fryers (i.e., fryers meant to be used only for GF products) or failing to use them as indicated
  • Using the same surface or utensils when preparing GF and regular food items
  • Inappropriate or non-existing training for food handling staff
  • Managers not properly monitoring personnel or instituting faulty/misinformed procedures
  • Apathy on the part of cooks and food servers

Even when restaurants establish procedures or officially take steps to ensure that certain foods are GF, things can easily go wrong.  Restaurants with dedicated fryers, for example, cannot guarantee that workers will not misuse the fryers when things get busy or if employees arbitrarily decide to circumvent or ignore the rules (even if only once in a while). 

In this regard, no restaurant (including McDonald's) that serves non-gluten-free products can guarantee that cross-contamination will not take place.  As long as some of McDonald's menu items contain gluten, there will always be the possibility of cross-contamination.

What Then Is "Final Verdict" & Can Celiac Sufferers Eat McDonald's Fries?

Officially, McDonald's fries are gluten-free.  This has, apparently, been certified by food testing companies.  Then again, most notably by FDA standards, "gluten free" doesn't necessarily mean that a product is 100% gluten free.  In the US, it merely means that gluten cannot exceed 20 ppm (parts per million).

As for whether it's safe for those with gluten sensitivities to consume McDonald's fries, this is something that each person needs to decide, preferably by taking a proactive and a macrocosmic (rather than a microcosmic) view.

If McDonald's fries contained just potatoes, salt and maybe a simple preservative, maybe the gluten aspect would not be such a big issue, especially after the company went through such great effort and expense to provide a GF product.  The reality is, however, that these fries contain over a dozen ingredients, several of which may not be best-suited for people with sensitive stomachs or food-allergy issues.

Maybe those people who continue to complain that McDonald's fries make them sick are not getting sick from gluten but from the hydrogenenated oils (which help foods last longer but are very hard to digest), citric acid, dextrose (a type of sugar which has raised some health concerns), TBHQ (a petroleum-based preservative which probably hasn't been tested enough for human consumption safety), dimethylpolysiloxane (an anti-foaming agent supposedly producing formaldehyde at high temperatures), sodium acid pyrophosphate (useful in helping the fries maintain an appetizing color; also suspected of being bad for your digestion); any of the GMO-derived (these man-made substances pose dangers we can now only imagine) ingredients; etc.

In other words, McDonald's fries (even if gluten-free) are probably not best-suited for people with fragile digestive systems, including celiacs.


In spite of all the concerns and literature alluding to legitimate questions, many people (including some with gluten issues) insist that McDonald's fries are perfectly okay for human consumption.  Some of these people simply urge those not sure or who still worry to ask restaurant employees before deciding to make a purchase.

"Do you use dedicated fryers?" 

"Are your fries gluten free?"

"Can you make sure that my food does not become compromised because of cross-contamination?"

"Has the staff a this facility been trained in how to properly cater to celiac sufferers?" Etc.

If you do happen to get sick after consuming McDonald's fries, furthermore, how do you know it was the fries, unless that is the only thing you had eaten?  Even experts have difficulty connecting suspected food allergies with the proper culprit; how, then, can the average consumer be absolutely sure using only the power of observation and impromptu deductive reasoning? 

Having said that, you are ultimately responsible for your health and the health of your dependents.  What is called for here is a large side order of common sense--preferably "to go!" 

If you want to indulge in things that you know are not ideally suited for you once in a while and if you are willing to accept the inherent risks therein, go for it; as some people would say: "you only live once!"

This is probably okay as long as you, for the most part, eat right, exercise regularly and avoid things that are bad for you.  Ultimately, the things that you eat on a regular basis--those are the things that will most affect your health!

Copyright 2015.  Fred Fletcher.  All rights reserved

5/5/2015 7:00:00 AM
Fred Fletcher
Written by Fred Fletcher
Fred Fletcher is a hard working Consumer Advocacy Health Reporter. Education: HT-CNA; DT-ATA; MS/PhD Post-Graduate Certificates/Certifications: • Project Management • Food Safety • HIPAA Compliance • Bio-statistical Analysis & Reporting • Regulatory Medical Writing • Life Science Programs Theses & Dis...
View Full Profile

Well said. It amazes me how "stupid" some people are.....wanting other people to be responsible for them. Real simple, even a dog or cat won't eat something that makes them sick. If you aren't smart enough to know what not to eat, you have bigger problems than what's in some French fries.
Posted by Lw3
Here's a thought. If you dine somewhere and you feel poorly afterwards, don't eat there. Haven't been to McDonalds in years except for a coffee or bathroom break. Had stomach ache and diarrhea within half hour after eating. Wasn't food borne illness just felt really bad. If you want your kids to be healthy, cook healthy and teach them young. Takes much effort but worth it. Our environment is Toxic!
Posted by Grammy
There will always be tree huggers and progressive groups that will take a word they hear and allow it to make a train wreck of their lives and everyone else's. i understand there are many people who have been plagued with intolerance to the most common natural substances on the earth and it has in part been due to the genetic engineering of the food in our daily diet. A simple cold virus has become a death sentence. Gluten, a naturally occurring substance, is actually an essential element for a properly operating digestive system. In recent years it has been condemned by people who listen to panic developers. Climate change has been the status quo since the beginning of the earth, but they think there is a way to prevent it from happening.On the flip side, look at the immense power the EPA has derived through the employment of many of these scare tactics. They have cost most of the taxpayers an untold fortune with their heavy handed lobbying. Our medical care costs have soared over so many contrived conditions and the sue happy attitudes of the same progressive attitudes. I was born and raised in a much better time where low income was not poor, we made it through childhood disease, people were not triple-sized abd quality of life was important to us all. Yes, I have a cellular telephone to keep up with my business, bit it is not tethered to my ear. I was well educated, so I do not require a smartphone to function on a hourly basis. I am technologically savy, so that is not a shortfall. I even know the presidents and many of the noteworthy accomplishments that have helped us survive to be where we are today. Many Americans need to put down their attachments and look into their own abilities. The path we are on is not necessarily the best one for the future.
Posted by SanDee does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor do we verify or endorse any specific business or professional listed on the site. does not verify the accuracy or efficacy of user generated content, reviews, ratings or any published content on the site. Use of this website constitutes acceptance of the Terms of Use.
©2024 Wellness®.com is a registered trademark of, Inc. Powered by Earnware