Gluten Free Subway Sandwich

(Editor’s note:  there have been significant changes to the Subway test market since this post in January of 2012.  Please read Gluten Free Subway Ends in one Market; Gradually Disappears in Others, dated January 17, 2014)

Subway expanded its gluten free test market to Minnesota quietly in December…and now the word is out.  First, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas then Portland, Oregon and Tacoma, Washington and now Minnesota.  I posted about the big news Thursday — read it here. Since then more information has come out about the test marketing, and we put the sandwich-making process to the test.

 Subway’s Take on Gluten Free

As soon as I found out about the gluten free sandwiches being offered at Subway in the Duluth area of Minnesota, I got on the phone, called Subway’s corporate offices.  I eventually heard from Kevin Kane, Public Relations Manager at Subway.  He confirmed the company is testing a gluten free roll and brownie in 19 Subway stores in the Duluth area.  He also confirmed that nearly 900 stores now have the gluten free line in four communities.  The one I didn’t know about was Washington.

Kane explained why it’s taking so long getting the gluten free items out across the country.

“We know people are getting antsy to try this,” Kane said.  “We are confident, based on the feedback we have received, that we have a great product. Now we are working diligently to make sure we have a process in place that will ensure there is absolutely no cross-contamination during the process of making the sandwich.”

He says they have been working with celiac groups as well to have their involvement in the process.

I also talked with an employee at the Grand Avenue store in West Duluth.  She explained the process as such: the employee washes their hands, changes gloves, gets fresh deli paper to lay down on the counter, opens the wrapped bread and opens the wrapped knife to cut it with and they make your sandwich.

I mentioned concern of current toppings that would likely be contaminated by previous sandwiches.   She said if you have an “especially strong reaction” to gluten you can request fresh ingredients from the back.  Which, in theory, would help curb any cross contamination that has already happened in the sandwich fixins.

Subway Gluten Free List

Testing the process

So my sister-in-law, Dana,  (who’s married to my brother with celiac) lives in Duluth,  headed to the nearest Subway to check out the ordering process for me.  My cub reporter came back with an interesting report and good pictures!

Dana said there was a sign posted listing the gluten free options, then when she got in line she was the last one, but since it was around lunch time, people quickly filled in behind her and she felt bad she was asking for a gluten free sandwich because it took longer.

Here’s what Dana did: she asked for a gluten free sandwich and she asked for fresh ingredients from the back.  However, my sister-in-law noticed during the sandwich-making process, after touching the cutting board as they “slide” the sandwich down, the gloves can instantly get contaminated.

The employee clearly was flustered by her requests to have fresh ingredients instead of what was on the line, and for him to change his gloves again.  So while one employee told me to ask for fresh ingredients and I shouldn’t feel bad about it, my sister-in-law felt bad because the employee she dealt with appeared to be so worked up. And she noticed it was like the employee she worked with was in a lose-lose situation: he would wash his hands, change his gloves get the bread, but any time he touched something (like handles to the fresh ingredients or to the toaster oven) his gloves were potentially contaminated.

When Dana tried it she said she actually thought the bun was too thick and it was a bit dry.  However she admitted adding some butter or mayonnaise might take care of that.  Cammie Jezierski has been there several times already ordering gluten free sandwiches. She told the Twin Cities ROCK Facebook page, “It is so good! My 11year old daughter and I have gone 4 times and have not gotten sick. My husband and son LOVE that we can enjoy Subway as a family again!”

Another look at the GF sandwich

Will you try eating there?

I can see both sides of this story:

  1. Subway is going to great lengths (short of having a separated prep area, which would be ideal) to do gluten free safely, including education of staff and conducting test markets that have taken a year — and are still only available in 4 areas of  the country.
  2. A person with celiac or a gluten intolerance may see the contamination coming from miles away and feels helpless as they watch an employee potentially cross contaminate the sandwich.  Who wants to pay for a sandwich they believe they could get sick on?

As an advocate for celiac awareness I am happy they’re here, they’re trying hard,  but I really want them to do it right so everyone can eat there safely.  What will you do?

(Editor’s note:  there have been significant changes to the Subway test market since this post in January of 2012.  Please read Gluten Free Subway Ends in one Market; Gradually Disappears in Others, dated January 17, 2014)

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31 Responses to “Subway Comments on Gluten Free Expansion”

  1. It’s really difficult to avoid cross contamination in a sandwich shop–we should start a nationwide gluten free-only fast food store. I appreciate their efforts and I would try it, for sure.

  2. jennifer mclaughlin
    January 6th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    I feel for us and the employees(especially when busy). I would try it but I’d go at a time when it wasn’t busy. If 1 crumb can cause damage to the villi in someone with Celiac disease, then I feel like all toppings would have to be separate. That’s the only way to ensure safety…but it’s a lot of work for the employees when you have a bunch of people in a hurry in line. I would love this to be something I didn’t have to have anxiety about though 🙂 I’m still thrilled they’re doing it and learning what works and doesn’t. When others look to do the same they’ll have a business model to go off of…that part is exciting.

  3. Interesting! Do you know what ingredients the bun is made from?

  4. Sara, I am sorry I don’t know the ingredients.

  5. Is there somewhere to find the GF locations? I’d love to check it out, but don’t really want to spend the day touring Subway restaurants on an empty stomach. 😉

  6. What do we know about the brownie in terms of how it is packaged? I’m assuming it is in a seperately sealed package than the normal cookies that are offered at Subway.

    I’d be cautiusly optimistic about getting safe GF from Subway…but it would open a world of options. I’m glad to see that their public stance is safety/avoiding CC.

    Sure would up the convenience factor of grabbing a quick bite.

  7. While I’d sure like to see this work, I have my doubts about them using the same toppings and saying that’s okay unless you have an

  8. My son has EXTREME sensitivity. Cross contamination that you dont’ even see ( and we are VERY careful) can make him sick. He LOVES Subway. He would love to try it. But we too would definitely go when it is SLOOOOOOOOOOOWWW so we could CAREFULLY watch for cross contamination.

    He wants to open up a gluten free restaurant. TOTALLY gluten free so no contamination is even possible. We are good cooks and have prefected many recipes so he doesn’t feel so left out.

    I don’t live close to Duluth, but hope ot gets to the cities soon. I do appreciate their efforts and taking their time because this MUST be done carefully!!

  9. A couple of months ago I heard about GF options here in Washington. I called Subway to find out which shops were participating and was told no Subway had GF offererings. I tried contacting them again via email and received the same response.

    Because of cross contamination issues I would probably not try a sandwhich here at home, but it would be a welcome option when traveling. When traveling everything is a crap shoot anyway.

  10. I am glad Subway is taking their time in launching a new product line as important as gluten free sandwiches. For many people, not just those with gluten intolerance, healthy eating is a major focus, especially those that wish to lose weight.

    I am also glad for this review. This is good information for the average lunch time crowd who want to get a good healthy meal.

  11. I recently went to the Subway on London Rd in Duluth. I purposefully went at a time when it was not busy (11:00) and asked about their system to avoid cross contamination. The employee said that they use a large new paper to set the bread on, use a disposable knife, use a clean napkin to touch toaster and dressings. I asked if it would be possible to use new toppings from the refrigerator to eliminate further the chance of contamination and they were very willing to do that. She took out my toppings fresh from the refrig. and set them out, changed her gloves again and made my sandwich very carefully. She used a clean napkin to open the toaster and pick up the salt, pepper and mayo. It was as close to perfect as possible. The sandwich was tasty and I appreciated the time and care she took. I do wish that they were had the space to have a gluten free prep area…….

  12. I went to the Subway on Kenwood Ave. in Duluth the other day and was very impressed! Like Kristi, the person who made my sandwich was very careful and I could tell they were well-educated. I watched very closely and she did not touch the counter or handles of anything. I had them toast my bun after it was cut and before putting any toppings on. I think that helped the texture of the bread. It was tasty! I just wish they were bigger! I could eat 3 of them…

  13. I so wish they would hurry up and try this in Kansas City!!!

  14. What are the prices of a GF sandwich at Subway? My son is 3 (was diagnosed when he was about 16 months old) and eating out is tough to do. He is getting to the age where he realizes that what he is eating is different than the rest of the family.

    I am sure that having a special area for preparing gluten free food would cost a lot of money, and in turn really jack up the prices for gluten free sandwiches. I am glad that Subway is realizing the demand for this.

    Hopefully we will see this coming to the Twin Cities soon.

  15. when traveling, my hubby takes the gluten enzyme pills with every meal and so far, we’re thinking that’s what’s saving him from cross-contamination issues.

  16. Hey I just wanted to say that my fiance is a alergic to gluten and she lives in the twin cities now. Whenever we go up to visit her parents we always go to a subway that has gluten free options. This is my take on it:

    The bread is in a separate sealed package. The workers switch gloves and use a new knife to open the package. They then immediately toast the bread in a separate, only for gluten free bread, oven. Then they take all of their ingredients from separate closed bins that are only used for gluten free people. Now because of this they do not have all of the same options, but all of the common ones and more.

    The brownies are absolutely amazing! They are the best gluten free brownies I have ever had. And yes they are prepackaged! They do not make any of the sandwiches or brownies in store. The bread is also some of the best gluten-free bread I have ever eaten! (I am not allergic to gluten).

    I also should have mentioned that her sister works at a Subway that has gluten free options and so it was nice hearing from her the process and level of care that they do take. The same employee that starts the sub walks it completely down the line so no one else touches it.

    Because of this it does slow down there assembly line and they do get frustrated if you come at a busy time because one whole employee can then only help one customer. So I would recommend going at an off time as many have mentioned above.

    Hope this helps a bit!

  17. Two more quick things:

    For those of you South of Duluth the Subway we go to is actually in a small city south of Duluth about 20 miles called Cloquet. If you are going up there just to try the Subways out this is a bit closer.

    Also the price is $1 more than a six inch sub. But as you see they are quite small.

  18. I am sooo dubious of any chain restaurant who is now carrying GF options. This fad diet is giving folks the idea that there are profits to made in providing GF options. I don’t see that they are truly concerned about providing safe food for Celiacs though (we are the minority of people on GF diets now). Are they using a third party GF Certification to verify their fixings are safe for Celiacs? Spreads, meats, and cheeses can all be cross contaminated during manufacturing. They could also get the restaurant certification if they were really motivated by the altruistic desire to protect our health instead of mere profits. I recognize and appreciate their efforts, but I wouldn’t risk eating there. They simply haven’t done their homework, and aren’t spending the time it takes to make us safe food. Pizza joints and sand which shops are just riddled with gluten.

  19. We are waiting for them to come to Los angles

  20. We just visited the subway in Superior, WI (outside of Duluth, MN) and while ordering for people in our family–but not my celiac son–we saw the gluten free brownie listed on the menu, so I asked about it and the man there told us there was a gluten free bun as well and that if our son was extra sensitive they would get fresh ingredients…my son (8 years old) was ecstatic and we ordered him a sandwich and a brownie. He declared Subway his new FAVORITE restaurant!!! Yay Subway!!!! He loved it! We did have mayo on it (I was nervous and didn’t check myself about it but did ask). I hope they add the gluten free option to all of the Wisconsin stores–it’s not in Ashland (where we live) yet. 🙁 Sure love the steps towards this though!! So much better than it was when our son was diagnosed at 18 months old!

  21. I appreciate all of the work they are putting into this project to account for cross contamination. But some of us (a lot of us) are not that sensitive. I wish they would roll out gluten free dough to all stores with a disclaimer posted that says “This location cannot yet avoid cross contamination while preparing gluten-free sandwiches. Please order at your own risk.” Then I could be having a subway sandwich right now instead of reading this blog about it.
    And I live in Southern California, where Gluten-Free is the new black. Why are they testing in Duluth? Lame! Test here!

  22. When will the gluten free sandwich and brownie come to California. In the Bay area? Santa Clara. Their are so many people here in my area who can’t eat gluten at all.

  23. My son has celiac disease and loves your gluten free bread. We live in superior Wisconsin. I wanted to order from Shell Lake Wisconsin and wa baffeled that they do not carry it. The to find out only some stores are doing it. They all should offer this great gluten free bread. Also they staff in superior do a great job avoiding cross contaminating and I was shocked to see how we’ll they all do. Thanks

  24. I am glad Subway is trying at least. We live in Wyoming and went to one of our Subways here in town and it was a horrible experience. I figured a salad would be safe if gloves were changed but as soon as I asked, I knew I was in trouble. Although there were no other customers, she was openly hostile, throwing things, and passed everything down to the next two employees who proceeded to contaminate the salad with their dirty gloves. She charged us extra for the salad, and I left in tears, to go home to fix myself something else to eat. We got our money back a few days later and the owner apologized stating that her own daughter had celiac. Hopefully better educated employees will be the end result so others do not have to suffer the humiliation I had to endure.

  25. I go to my local Subway here in Flint and they are GREAT! I prefer the Tuna Sub (minus the “sub” part). I give them a written list of the ingredients I want. They put on fresh gloves and get them from the “clean” containers in the back at my request. They package each item & condiments in disposable containers, package up and give to me. I then make my own sub at home on GF bread. It’s still unnerving as I watch every move they make worrying about cross-contamination, but on the whole, it goes well and I get to eat Subway!

  26. Sure hope Canada does the gluten free testing at their Subways. I have been emailing them and they tell me that its still in progress. Hope it works out well.

  27. Catherine Williams
    February 7th, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    I did not have a good experience with a Subway in Lexington, South Carolina they allowed me to take my own bread and and would make me a sandwich on for 2 months .One day I went into the same store and they told me I could no longer have a sandwich there. I spoke to the manager aT the store and she said what would we do with our bread if we use your bread. I was very frustrated and that was the last time I went to Subway. not accommodating at all 2 people with celiac. I hope the new bread will work. Five Guys have always let me bring my bread.

  28. I think it’s a rip off that they make you pay an extra $1 just to get a small bun, I appreciate it’s gluten free but it should cost LESS because the bun is smaller!

  29. I have Celiac and have gotten very ill from eating “gluten free” at subway and employee was not willing to get fresh or clean items from back. Further on each of 3 visits the worker/workers acting very annoyed about making the “gluten free” sandwich to begin with.

  30. I just eat the salads, no dressing.

    Would worry a great deal about all of the above contamination mentioned with Bread.

    Salad is separate in a separate bowl.

    Haven’t had them bring fresh from the back, but haven’t had trouble with the salads so far.

    Have had Subway Salads in S. Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, during travels.

    My salads = a mix of Spinach and regular lettuce, cheese, tomato, lite on the Jalapeno slices, no dressing, Avocado when in season.

    I cheat with a few Jalapenos, instead of cheating with dressing that might have a vinegar that makes me sick.

    Occasionally I eat too many Jalapenos…. have to keep it down to about 5 slices. Perhaps others will be less sensitive.

    Makes the salad tangy at any rate, good luck so far with the Avocado.

  31. Does anyone know where they get their gluten free rolls sourced from? I would love to buy in bulk

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