(This AllergyEats Blog entry has been guest written by Ken Allen, a food allergic who also provides public relations services to AllergyEats.)
Questions continue to swirl around McDonald’s French fries and whether they are safe for people with gluten intolerance. Amy Ratner, associate editor of Gluten-Free Living (www.glutenfreeliving.com) made a valiant stab at the issue in the magazine’s November issue. The results of her exhaustive research are worth repeating.
The issue actually boils down more to semantics than to ingredients, Ratner reported.
Prior to 2006, the fries were generally considered gluten free. “Then Congress passed a labeling law that required all packaged food regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to always include the top eight allergens in the ingredients list. The law did not apply to food served in restaurants, including fast food eateries like McDonald’s, but the company voluntarily decided to make ingredients lists available to consumers,” Ratner reported.
That led to the realization that the oil used to par fry the potatoes before they are sent out to the individual stores contained 99 percent vegetable oil and one percent flavoring made with hydrolyzed wheat bran and other ingredients.
So wheat went on the list of ingredients, shocking many who had previously considered the fries to be safe. But as in so much of life, things aren’t always as they seem.
“The company that supplied the par fry oil had the flavoring tested at the University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, a leading independent food testing lab,” Ratner reported. They found no gluten. Further testing by the same lab of the finished fries and hash browns found no “wheat-allergic residue.”
“The McDonald’s controversy demonstrated a glitch in the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act,” Ratner reported. “The law does not set a threshold for allergenic proteins. That means any food which cannot be proven to have absolutely zero protein from an allergen has to list that allergen on the label.”
The FDA is working to address this, and about a year ago proposed that foods could be labeled “gluten free” if they had 20 parts per million or less of gluten. If approved as proposed, that standard would allow McDonald’s to claim their fries are gluten-free even though the ingredients list would include wheat.
So, what is a gluten intolerant person supposed to do?
“Like many aspects of the gluten-free lifestyle, the decision regarding McDonald’s French fries and hash browns is a personal one. You have to weigh whether you are comfortable eating a product when the company that makes it says it contains wheat,” Ratner says.
Not a clearly definitive answer, but Ratner’s reporting helps us make a more informed decision.
Thanks Ken for that great post!
What about you? If you have Celiac, will you eat McDonald’s fries? Have you had a negative reaction from them? Are you comfortable with the proposed labeling definitions? Please share your thoughts by clicking on Comments/Reply below.
Be sure to also look for gluten-free menus, gluten-friendly certifications, and of course allergy- (and gluten-) friendliness ratings on our core site, AllergyEats (www.allergyeats.com).
Note also that we love guest bloggers! Just like with the main AllergyEats site, we’d love for the Blog to become a peer-to-peer resource. Do you have a restaurant story, positive or negative, that you’d really like to share? Are you a restaurateur or other restaurant employee who’d like to offer a unique perspective? What are your thoughts on recent news or articles related to food allergies and restaurants? If you are interested in having us post your blog entry, simply click “Submit a Post” at the top of this page or email your idea in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org.