Papa John’s and Starbucks Go Gluten-Free. Or Do They??

is papa johns gluten free pizza safe?

It ain’t easy being a celiac. And for restaurants, it ain’t easy to feed us. I get that.

And I also get that any time we eat out, unless the restaurant is 100% gluten-free, we take a risk. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, though I err way, way, way on the safe side. For example, you’ll never see me at a fast food joint. One because the food would rot my gut to pieces; two because most of it tastes like crap; and three because there is no way in hell I’m putting my faith in that kind of environment (cross-contamination galore, kids working, etc.)

But I know everyone is not like me.

Dude Note: When I was a young lad (with no friends mind you and bullied on a pretty regular basis), I always thought: “Why can’t everyone be just like me? The world would be so much better.” You might call it confidence. I call it ignorance. Anyway, back to business.

And I know for lots of reasons (convenience, money, etc.) our community will continue to eat at these joints. No judgment here. Promise. And when the joints do it right, I give them credit and when they do it wrong, I give them hell. Right Dominos and Panera??

All I know is that when a restaurant offers gluten-free, they have a responsibility to DO IT RIGHT. I always say celiacs don’t own gluten-free and I have no problem with ANYBODY going gluten-free. They have their reasons. But as my partner in crime Jennifer Esposito once said:

People need to understand this is a serious disease. And when you ask for gluten-free in a restaurant and you are not gluten-free; the more we have people not being able to decipher if this is an allergy, a fad or a disease, our community is getting sicker and sicker and sicker. I ask you to be responsible about this disease. I am asking that people be responsible and respectful for the people that suffer with this disease. It is not fun. It is not easy. And it is not a fad.

God…I love that.

Right now you’re probably wondering if I’m ever gonna get to the point. I feel your pain. Here we go.

Two chains recently announced they are offering gluten-free items: Papa John’s and Starbucks. I’ll take them one at a time. This time there will be judgment. Promise.

Starbucks Goes Gluten-Free!?

This is actually big. I like Starbucks. I don’t love their coffee, but I like their vibe, their fight for causes I believe in and the fact they pay their people fairly. But their big drawback is, not only have they never offered gluten-free food on their menu, there is absolutely no way to know if there is gluten in any of their drinks (except black coffee). It’s not listed anywhere in the establishment and it’s not on their website. For a company that large, it’s actually surprising it took them this long to jump in.

So did they do it right? It’s time for a little Q & A with myself.

Dude Note: See…when you have no friends, you tend to have conversations with yourself. Some habits are hard to break.

Don’t you and Mrs. Dude play “The Starbucks Game”, when you can see who can spot the most Starbucks when you’re in NYC?
How did you know?

Lucky guess. Ok…what is Starbucks offering?
A Gluten-Free Smoked Canadian Bacon & Egg sandwich

What’s it look like?
Here you go.

is the starbucks gfree sandwich safe for celiacs?

What are the ingredients?
The less you know…the better. Let’s just say there are A LOT of them. But no gluten.

How do they keep it safe from cross-contamination?
From their website: It’s all prepared in a certified gluten-free environment and sealed for your safety. We then warm and serve it in its own oven-safe parchment bag to avoid any cross-contamination. And it looks like this:

is starbucks sandwich safe for those with celiac disease

So it’s totally safe for celiacs?
This is where it gets a bit tricky. Even though they say it’s made in a certified gluten-free environment, on the very same web page it says this: “We cannot guarantee that any of our products are free from allergens (including dairy, eggs, soy, tree nuts, wheat and others) as we use shared equipment to store, prepare and serve them.”

what restaurants are gluten-free

Yeah…I know. Maybe just a CYA statement, but not really sure.

So do you think it’s safe?
Man, you ask a lot of questions.

Sorry, I’m a curious man-child.
That’s ok. Me too. I’ve read other celiacs’ reviews and it mostly seems like they are doing it right. A few times, the counter person erroneously removed the bag or they unsealed the bag before heating it up. But that just comes from proper training and being a smart celiac by keeping an eye on things behind the counter. As for the taste, again from what I’ve read, it’s nothing special but it’s not awful. Others can chime in here.

Last question. Will you try it?
Probably not. Not necessarily because I think it’s unsafe, but 1) it’s got cheese (me no eat dairy) and 2) based on the ingredients, I just have a feeling it would sit in my stomach like a rock. But I’m not condemning Starbucks. They sure as hell did it better than Papa John’s.

Papa John’s Goes Gluten-Free!?

I’m not gonna spend too much time on this one.

It’s a personal size pizza and they say the crust is prepared in a gluten-free environment before going to the stores. But this is directly from their site:

Papa John’s does not recommend pizzas with Papa John’s Ancient Grains Gluten-Free Crust for customers with Celiac Disease. Although Papa John’s Ancient Grains Gluten-Free Crust is gluten-free and Papa John’s employs procedures to prevent contact with gluten, it is possible that a pizza with Papa John’s Ancient Grains Gluten-Free Crust is exposed to gluten during the ordinary preparation process. Please use your best judgment in ordering a pizza with Papa John’s Ancient Grains Gluten-Free Crust if you have a sensitivity to gluten.

They can absolutely make it as they wish. They are in business for profit. And making really awful commercials with Peyton Manning. But what I don’t understand is if it’s not made for people who have sensitivities to gluten, THEN WHO IS IT MADE FOR?

And I know what’s gonna happen. Too many celiacs will see gluten-free at Papa John’s and order a pizza without thinking twice. They’ll get sick and Papa John’s will be none the wiser. And that just sucks.

Like I said, it ain’t easy being a celiac.

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30 thoughts on “Papa John’s and Starbucks Go Gluten-Free. Or Do They??”

  1. You say that too many celiacs will see gluten free at Papa John’s and order it without thinking twice. That makes me sad to think someone would be that foolish. I am paranoid of that and just prefer to feel well so I wouldn’t even if they promised me on their kids lives it was a GF environment. I don’t need a pizza that badly or I’ll make my own at home. Then again, I do understand how it can happen if you’ve just been diagnosed though. When I started this horrible journey I went through all stages of grief. I think looking back I was a bit pitiful really and quite angry at first. So I MAY have jumped on it in hopes of eating pizza again. I would have gotten sick and then been angry again. But now I know better and I admit a bit paranoid of eating all that GF food places like places advertise.

    1. I agree, we are very strict…. However, I believe that you may only come to the conclusion of not eating every gf item advertised at restaurants only after you have been diagnosed for some time and have done some research about CD and how to best stay safe and begin to regain your health. But after the initial CD diagnosis, many uneducated medical doctors and dietitians alike only tell their patients to eat gf and no additional information is given about CC or looking for gluten under other names. So common. This just happened to a friend this week, so she contacted me!! It takes time to educate yourself and be a better advocate. As glutendude said, I can absolutely see celiacs falling prey to restaurants offering gf items!!!

  2. It makes me sad too. But I (quietly) follow a few celiac support groups just to keep a pulse on the community, and I know far too many are will to take risks simply so they can feel “normal” again. Me? This is my normal now.

    1. Jessica Atchison

      I’m so paranoid about being glutened that I wouldn’t touch a “gluten free pizza” made in a shop that sells regular pizza with a ten foot pole. There’s just no way to guarantee no cross contamination when you’ve got flour flying around. There’s a shop in Sea Isle City, NJ (DeNunzio’s in case you’re interested!) that has gluten free pizza and gluten free cheese-steaks on the menu. The OWNER himself told me he only carries the gluten free pizza crust for fad dieters and he actively discourages celiacs from ordering it because of the chance of cross contamination. The cheese-steak however is to die for. It’s real flank steak sliced thin and grilled with provolone cheese served on a gluten free steak roll and the owner has it prepared away from the pizza prep area by different staff.

    2. Can you offer tips (or a former article) on how a newly diagnosed celiac should approach dining out? I avoid pizza places because I know how likely cross-contamination is, but I’m really unsure of the questions I should be asking to stay safe.

      1. Lynette Gardner

        My first answer is DON’T! My second answer is only at certified g-free restaurants. My third answer is ask questions about EVERY ingredient in the dish. Once my daughter & I ordered a g-free meal. Each came with non g-free breadsticks on top as a garnish! Restaurant staff usually do not realise that gluten can be in sauces, mayonnaise, chips/fries that are re-constituted potato, etc. Even ordering fish n chips, ask for g-free grilled fish. Some still cover it in flour if you ask for grilled! 4 weeks ago I had my worst reaction ever. Checked with waitress that salad was definitely g-free. Checked that sourdough bread with it was g-free. Assured me it was. Ate delicious lunch, including a full slice of bread. 1 hr later and for the past month I have been suffering! Contacted restaurant twice via email…NO response. About to go public cos this is NOT acceptable when advertising a meal as g-free. Be super careful.

      2. My daughter is Celiac and SUPER careful. She eats out at Red Robin, if you have one in your area. Be sure to see gf menu, that the server flags your order as gluten allergy (I know, it’s not an allergy but…) and that they use gf deep fryer for fries.

    3. Everyone is responsible for their own health! Papa John’s is being honest and upfront about their process so that is all we can ask. If people are foolish enough to eat something that can harm them than that is on THEM.
      We are all responsible for our own choices and cannot go passing the blame elsewhere.

      I personally would not drink anything from Starbucks because you cannot get a straight answer from them whether or not their products are gluten free so if I cannot have a beverage I guess I won’t be trying their sandwiches.

  3. Tried the Starbucks sandwich because I trusted what they said online about keeping it in its own bag. The Starbucks near my job does it right they know they can’t remove it or it will become cross contaminated. Went to another Starbucks drive through on a day I was running late. Pulled away and noticed it was unwrapped. I should have clarified and specified like I did with the other but I didn’t. I called and the response was that they use a fresh piece of parchment and dedicated tongs. I don’t like that. I will from now on always ask that they heat and keep the sandwich in it’s deciated wrapped bag. Sandwich was good.

  4. Thank you! Makes me angry to see a GF blog tout their excitement at Papa’s pizza because it has a GF crust. I read the original post that says they do not advise this pizza for Celiacs. I then questioned the GF blog site for encouraging others to eat by with stating this above their post, “Kudos to Papa John’s! What’s your favorite pizza toppings?”. When asked why they jumped the gun to encourage Celiacs to eat it, they responded that they always warn their readers of cross contamination. I asked them to tell me where that warning was in the statement above the post. Him…crickets…

  5. In my own experience with other food allergies, Starbucks does not do well in avoiding cross contamination. I would not risk it.

  6. As a relatively newly diagnosed celiac within the last 4 years, I still find it hard to question every restaurant order.

    I just emailed TGI Fridays because at a recent visit I ordered a burger with their gluten-free bun (which actually was very good), but neglected to think there might be croutons on my salad. The kitchen should pay more attention to those simple details.

  7. I have Celiac and personally always watch the baristas at work when I go to starbucks to see if they have different people handling the coffee vs. pastry area. Usually, they have 2 baristas on drinks and a couple others handling food and the registers. After (probably creepily) watching for a few minutes, I make an assesment about whether or not I think it’s safe and order my drink. I have never had an issue doing this and cross contamination sets me off QUICK.

    Now that I’m pregnant, I’m even more paranoid and still have not had an issue, although I frequent one starbucks in particular.

  8. It’s so confusing to me when places like Starbucks will offer a gluten free option but, not disclose any of their allergens for their drinks. Dominos does the same thing as papa Johns- many of my non-celiac friends ask if I get the gf pizza from Dominoes, and I won’t do it. I have a question for you…have you ever brought your own food to a restaurant when eating with friends? (Someplace casual, not fancy) do you think it’s tacky? My husband encourages me to do it when we go somewhere I don’t have a say in with a group but, I feel awkward. I’d love to know your thoughts on this!
    Thanks for all you do for the Celiac community.

    1. I have taken crackers to wine tastings and also restaurants with the plan to order a spread or dip that I know is safe. No one has ever minded….but I do ask before pulling the container out of my bag.

  9. We have a “new-to-us” chain called Pieology, which is sort of the Qdoba of pizzas. The website had the same “Celiacs take caution” disclaimer as PJ, but since the GF crust was also egg and dairy free (and I have a kiddo with those allergies plus some), we gave it a try.

    Right off I was so impressed. They had separate containers of butter/oil so the brushes wouldn’t cross contact, changed gloves, etc. I was thinking, “Wow, I might actually get to eat pizza I didn’t make myself!” But then while I was tending one of the littles, the carried the pizza away, slid it off its special tray and into the crumb-littered oven. Goodbye gluten free.

    It’s appalling to me that I paid $3 extra for that @#$%@#! crust because it was Gluten Free – except not really. I find the practice of offering something that’s GF, then not being able or willing to ensure it *is* GF exploitive.

    1. Rebecca – the same happened to us last weekend at Pieology! My husband was thrilled to find a local pizza place with a GF crust that didn’t contain egg or dairy. We were alone in the place and spent a lot of time talking to the counter person. She was very careful, but my husband did notice they slid the pizza off the special tray. He decided to enjoy having “real” pizza out. He said he was ok but felt a bit iffy, and he doesn’t want to go back. It does defeat the purpose. The woman was also fine with me asking her to put on new gloves after handling the bacon on my husband’s pizza when she was preparing mine since I’m a vegetarian. We were impressed but worried about the oven. Back to making pizza at home on Friday nights.

  10. No matter what any restaurant/fast food joint says, the employees are what make our food safe or not. We have to trust the integrity of the people they hire. I know someone who works at a place where employees would ‘forget’ and cook gf food on non gf equipment, think ‘oh well’, and serve it anyway. Thanks to the fad, not many take Celiac Disease seriously. I have been at restaurants which offer GF food, have told the waiter, ‘I am not a fad dieter, I have Celiac’ … and gotten the deer-in-the-headlights look. Still no go for me. Unless a restaurant is 100% GF, no way do I risk it. Used to, but after feeling like garbage almost every time, I gave up. Because most people haven’t a clue how careful we have to be, a lot of people think it is easy to be GF, thanks to places like Papa John’s and all the others who offer “GF” food. Joe Public rarely reads the fine print. And that just makes our life more difficult.

  11. If you can’t guarantee it, don’t offer it! These type of disclaimers say they are too lazy to train their staff to handle GF Meals correctly. It also tells me that they are really only going after the fad dieters. None of this excites me. I am lucky, I have Celiac (29 yrs diagnosed) and a Milk Allergy (Epi Pen Milk Allergy), I own my own GF & AF place, I eat at my cafe, deli and bakery and I rarely eat out because I won’t eat processed junk food full of empty calories. I just don’t want anything bad enough to take a chance..Celiac Reaction is 10 days of hell with Ataxia and a DH rash that lasts for 9 mos. Not worth the risk. I hear all of the horror stories that customers tell me about when the dined at “xyz” and how bad it turned out for them. Don’t risk it!

  12. My fiance was diagnosed with celiac 3 years ago. I have done tons of research and have followed your blog for probably 2 years now. He is one of those people that will say “Oh, it says Gluten free so it has to be”. Drives. Me. Nuts. I can’t get it through his head that there is so many opportunities for cross contamination. He does not have a bad reaction when he does eat gluten and he “cheats” quite often. I worry about his long-term health, but there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do or say to get him to take it more seriously. 🙁

  13. Thanks so much for all the research and info you put out. You and Jennifer E. have been my saving grace since being diagnosed a couple years ago. Also, thank you for ranting, as frustration is definitely a big part of Celiac Disease, unfortunately. Best wishes.

  14. Papa Murphy’s offers gluten free crust. There is one near where I live that knows me and are very good in avoiding cross contamination – they’ve told me the steps. I have never been glutened by the,. It is just that one, though – I got glutened by one in Portland, where eating gluten free seems to be seen as a hobby. Since then, I have gotten a lot more paranoid about any restaurant where I don’t know the steps they take.

    That said, there are a lot of calories in that tasty pizza, so I don’t get it very often. And, figuring out calorie count is very difficult – their web site gives the calories per slice – but you slice the pizza yourself and they don’t say how many slices they are calculating from.

  15. This is not the first time Starbucks offered a GF product under their label. They had a lemon muffin about 5 years ago, maybe even farther back. It flopped. I tried the Starbucks sandwich when I was in a pinch on a trip a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t terrible, but it certainly lacked flavor. If I had to, in a pinch I would eat it again.

  16. Starbucks has had gluten free items before. They had this little cake, it had orange zest in it and almonds on top and a bit of some kind of icing. It was really good but of course only if you are craving a little, expensive cake. Apparently celiac sufferers would prefer something a bit more substantial, it went away. I asked after that what GF foods they had, and all they had was a couple granola-like bars that were gluten free…but they were loaded with other things I am allergic to. I am looking forward to trying their new GF offering, though I am not expecting much after all the other GF things I have tried and not really liked. But if you are hungry and celiac, any GF port in a storm.

  17. I’ve worked in the restaurant industry for the better part of the last decade and was diagnosed with celiac about 3 years ago. I gotta say, I freaking love your blog. You get it. I have seen the best and the worst in human behavior around gluten… from both sides of service (yes, some servers are assholes. Most of us are not). But you’d better believe that if you make me painstakingly go through the menu with you (I’m the gluten go-to in my restaurant and am happy to be so) and tell you what’s non-gluten containing, what’s cross contaminated (sorry, no french fries for you) and are so dramatic about your gluten issues (once again, I get it. Getting glutened sucks. I’m on your team) but then order the soup WITH the flour tortilla strips or the french fries or the chocolate cake because “well, that’ll be OK”, you’d better believe I’m charging you $4 for your GF bun. If you’re not a dickhead, I’ll ring in your GF bun for free.

    **Before I get hate mail, this isn’t about not saying anything when you dine out. You SHOULD notify your server that you have celiac (I liked the comment about “I’m not a fad dieter, I have celiac”. Your server will appreciate it and probably get a chuckle out of it.) and any precautions they take for cross-contamination issues are appreciated. We will respond accordingly. We even have special !!!ALLERGY!!! buttons in our systems to help guide the kitchen on your order after we talk to them about your dish. Just be nice about it. And tip well because you’re slowing down service, the kitchen flow stops for an allergy ticket (as it should) and they’re going EXTRA steps above and beyond for you AND it’s just good karma over all. And above all, BE NICE. HAVE PATIENCE. Did I say BE NICE yet? And understand that unless it’s an allergy certified kitchen (it prob isn’t) you are living on the edge at least a little bit.**

  18. I have ordered the Starbucks gluten free three times and one bought as a present in San Diego (La Jolla area). They have always been sealed. My Nima has given me peace of mine (I’m good at getting a representative sample). I tested it twice and it tested as gluten free.

    Regarding Papa John’s. Same thing with other pizza chains, as I had to explain to my company ordering a gluten free pizza from “the place down the street” tested with gluten, and they don’t recommend celiacs eat their gluten free pizza. The few places that can get it right I try to recommend and shop often.

  19. ashley webster

    Y’all are not missing a thing. papa John gluten free ancient grain pizza is gross.

    Someone whose tummy feels better with minimal gluten

  20. I find it a little offensive that some on this board are drawing a line between Celiac, and non-celiacs and then that if you are non-celiac and gluten-free, you are a “fad” dieter.
    Please be aware that there are many people who don’t tolerate gluten and wheat, as they are inflammatory. I have a son with Autism and it has been recommended that we cut out gluten AND dairy to reduce inflammation and neurotoxicity. We have done this for two years with young children. Not easy.
    I greatly appreciate when restaurants that serve gluten also offer gluten-free items!!!!

    I am aware that Celiac is very serious, and that cross-contamination is a real concern that limits you from eating at those establishments. I would avoid those establishments if I were you as well.

    But let’s be real, it is better for everyone that this “fad” is catching on, as we are all learning the truth about gluten. And although you cannot partake in eating at restaurants that offer gluten free items, the world is not exclusively gluten-free for you and “fad dieters”.

  21. Although all comments are over a yr old I feel I must say something. When I had to go GF 10 yrs ago. I had extensive knowledge of food prep as I had cooked in restaurants. I used to hate to eat out once GF. My food was better & choices sucked. Well for the past 6 yrs I now only eat out. Yes I hate it. But I have no choice, I’m homeless.

    Imagine getting gluten attack on the street? Imagine the frustration of lack of options or added expenses? Imagine soup kitchens & food banks being of little worth ?
    So just think next time that some of us have zero choice.

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Who I am. And who I'm not.

Who I am. And who I'm not.

I AM someone who's been gluten-free since 2007 due to a diagnosis of severe celiac disease. I'm someone who can steer you in the right direction when it comes to going gluten-free. And I'm someone who will always give you the naked truth about going gluten free.

I AM NOT someone who embraces this gluten-free craziness. I didn’t find freedom, a better life or any of that other crap when I got diagnosed. With all due respect to Hunter S. Thompson, I found fear and loathing of an unknown world. But if I can share my wisdom, tell my stories and make the transition easier on you, I’ve done my job.

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