Stop eating gluten-free Cheerios. I reiterate. Do not eat General Mills “gluten-free” Cheerios. That’s the first takeaway I want you to get from today’s post.
I’m not simply talking about abstaining from eating the “gluten-free” Cheerios that were included in the recall of October 8, 2015. That Class 1 recall was for 1.8 million boxes, which included a combination of original “Yellow Box” Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, for undeclared wheat from General Mills’ Lodi, California manufacturing location.
I’m telling you to abstain from all “gluten-free” Cheerios. DO NOT EAT ANY “GLUTEN-FREE” CHEERIOS. Period.
This is also the recommendation of Tricia Thompson, founder/operator of Gluten-Free Watchdog (GFW). Tricia and GFW are our greatest resources in the gluten-free community.
She values getting accurate information on gluten-free products out to the gluten-free community above all else. Without Tricia’s dedication and persistence, we would not have known from Day One how General Mills has been conducting business in making its “gluten-free” Cheerios.
Tricia has been the gluten-free advocate who has consistently asked General Mills the hard questions. Based on General Mills’ responses, she has made recommendations to their personnel to improve their processing with the intention being that all their Cheerios products would be safe for the gluten-free public. However, General Mills has consistently refused to make changes to its processing.
After learning about General Mills testing protocols, Gluten Free Watchdog initially recommended that anyone with celiac disease refrain from eating “gluten-free” Cheerios. After the recall and finding out additional information on what was and was not going on with “gluten-free” Cheerios, Tricia updated the GFW recommendation to include all with gluten-related disorders and stated: “Gluten Free Watchdog’s very strong recommendation at this time is to avoid Cheerios until General Mills improves their testing methodology and protocol.”
If you follow me on social media, you already know exactly how I feel about these products and the
hundreds thousands they have already made ill. You also know why I feel the way I do.
However, many of you are not on any of those platforms, so I want to share some facts and some of my feelings on this matter here because I feel so strongly about it all, I want this information documented here on gfe, and, again, I don’t want any more gluten-free individuals getting ill from these products.
Admittedly, I’ve had a hard time writing this post because I feel pretty emotional about what is going on and it’s hard for me to capture even the facts alone on this subject in a clean outline format and in a calm way. I have been appalled at the path that General Mills has taken and the path that so many in our gluten-free community have taken.
So after struggling with writing this post for weeks, I’m not even going to try to do a nice clean, well-written post. I am going to ramble and probably repeat myself in this post, all in order to just get the words out and share the situation. Plus, as Mr. GFE always says, “when I repeat myself, it’s important.” All the details related to General Mills “gluten-free” Cheerios certainly are important and worth repeating.
Many posts have been written on this topic urging gluten-free consumers not to take the risk of eating “gluten-free” Cheerios, but these posts have come from just a handful of very few respected bloggers and other trusted gluten-free resources. These folks who are willing to speak out are our true gluten-free advocates. A million hat tips to them for placing the health of the gluten-free community above any other considerations.
Appallingly, most in the gluten-free community are not advocating for the gluten-free community. Those gluten-free individuals and groups—bloggers, national support groups and foundations, publications, etc.—have not been willing to say anything negative against General Mills or these products, even if that meant that their readers/supporters/audience took their endorsement or lack of an endorsement and the classic cop-out (“use your own best judgment/make your own decision”) as a go ahead to eat gluten-free Cheerios.
Most of the bloggers who promoted “gluten-free” Cheerios are folks who have established themselves as gluten-free experts and trusted spokespeople in the gluten-free community, by having active gluten-free blogs and active social media platforms as well as presenting to the gluten-free community in public. In addition, many of them have written gluten-free publications—gluten-free guidebooks, memoirs, cookbooks, collections of tips for living gluten free, etc.
These are the same folks who have instructed gluten-free newbies in all their media that they must eat products that are less than 20 ppm gluten to stay gluten free, each and every time. That is the absolutely correct guidance, of course.
The irony has been that these same individuals are telling the gluten-free public that they and their own children are eating “gluten-free” Cheerios and they have not had a reaction so they don’t have any concerns—even after the recent Cheerios recall. This guidance is harmful to the gluten-free community and just plain wrong.
Some of these individuals have shared sponsored posts for “gluten-free” Cheerios—most of them with a disclaimer that equates to “eat at your own risk”—while others have insisted that they have not been compensated by General Mills. I think being flown to General Mills and having one’s expenses paid while there, having one’s recipe posted on General Mills’ website, and having one’s name slapped on a box of complimentary Cheerios which one subsequently shares on social media all amount to compensation. Plus, why would folks do that unless they hoped for further compensation from General Mills down the road?
And, worst of all, many of their followers did eat gluten-free Cheerios because they read these individuals and resources praising “gluten-free” Cheerios and advertising these products on their sites and in their publications. I’ve read comments from gluten-free consumers saying “I tried gluten-free Cheerios because gluten-free blogger x said s/he felt it was safe and I got sick.” In many cases, when readers shared that they got ill, the Cheerios cheerleaders have responded by:
a) ignoring their comments (the most common occurrence)
b) encouraging those who have gotten ill to try another box: “I’m sorry, but maybe your next try will be good!” (you can’t make this stuff up!)
c) offering comments like the following without urging readers to report their illnesses to the FDA:
“Sorry they didn’t work for you!”
“Sad to hear it didn’t go well for you. We just finished our 3rd box and we are all good.”
Those are all unacceptable responses to people who have gotten ill because of a gluten-free blogger’s/resource’s “expertise” and “advocacy.” Equally unacceptable is advice that we should “trust” the people making the food.
The whole point of the gluten-free labeling law was that we could not simply trust the people who made our food. That approach didn’t work before the gluten-free labeling law went into effect and it still does not work with the law in place. The “gluten-free” Cheerios recall and the numbers of individuals who have gotten ill from these products clearly demonstrates that trusting the people making the food is not the way to go.
In addition, numerous gluten-free expos have been sponsored by “gluten-free” Cheerios. General Mills representatives even passed out sample boxes at one expo event. Sample boxes which bore no lot numbers and manufacturing information, I will add.
The bottom line is that many have gotten ill as a result of seeing these endorsements as a green light for eating these products, and many more will get sick as long as these products stay on the market and trusted members of the gluten-free community continue to state that they’re eating these “gluten-free” Cheerios and doing fine.
In fact, I’m seeing new reports of illness from “gluten-free” Cheerios daily online—reports of illness from “gluten-free” Cheerios that are not part of the recall. Yet General Mills refuses to ensure each and every box of “gluten-free” Cheerios is safe for the gluten-free community.
Their representatives are still responding to gluten-free individuals who report illness to boxes outside the recall by pointing a finger of blame at them, “perhaps you picked up the wrong box,” “maybe you’ve reacted to the milk,” “some celiacs can’t tolerate oats,” “we understand that these products are not suited for everyone,” and the list goes on. Inexcusably, many gluten-free bloggers and fellow gluten-free individuals are also pointing fingers of blame.
Despite its statement of apology from General Mills’ President of Big G Cereals, Jim Murphy, General Mills has not changed its behavior towards consumers reporting illness. Murphy cited embarrassment and stated “we’ll be working even harder to earn back your trust after the recall.” So far there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that is happening.
Each and every report of illness should be taken seriously and investigated. I urge any of you have been sickened to contact the FDA via telephone or online to report any illness.
It does not matter if you got ill from a box from the recall or another box. It also does not matter whether you have celiac disease.
Anyone who has gotten ill from any box should contact the FDA. Each and every incident of illness should be counted and investigated. (Hold on to your box if you still have it so you can share that specific lot number, etc.) Here’s how to reach the FDA to let them know you got ill:
Nine Important Points and “Thoughts” on the “Gluten-Free” Cheerios Debacle
~ Again, Tricia Thompson of Gluten Free Watchdog is our #1 advocate for the gluten-free community and has been working nonstop to push General Mills to produce “gluten-free” Cheeerios are safe for all. Tricia is the founder and operator of Gluten-Free Watchdog and is also The Gluten-Free Dietitian.
She’s one of our most trusted and most knowledgeable members of the gluten-free community. Via her Gluten Free Watchdog program, she sees that gluten-free products are tested on an ongoing basis to determine if they are truly gluten free and reports the testing results. (A subscription to Gluten-Free Watchdog is highly recommended. The monthly fee is $4.99, which is typically less than the cost of a single gluten-free product.)
~ Our gluten-free experts have been advising gluten-free individuals to eat certified gluten-free, “purity protocol” oats to stay safe for years. However, General Mills is using mainstream oats for its five varieties of “gluten-free” Cheerios.
Instead of using purity protocol oats, General Mills is using a proprietary mechanical separation and optical sorting process. Interestingly, if you watch the “gluten-free” Cheerios commercial that shows the cartoon animation of the oats being mechanically separated and optically sorted from the other grains, at the end of the process you will actually see the gluten grains that remain among the oats that they are using.
Gluten-Free Watchdog has shared the need for purity protocol oats for those who eat gluten free for medical reasons and how mainstream oats differ from purity protocol oats here. If you are wondering why General Mills is simply not using purity protocol oats, they have stated that there are not enough purity protocol oats to supply their needs. General Mills has also stated that they have spent tens of millions over several years in developing their propriety process to make mainstream oats safe.
Personally, I would rather that General Mills had spent those millions growing purity protocol oats and used those in these “gluten-free” Cheerios products. That would have removed a huge concern with these products.
When I initially heard that General Mills would not be using purity protocol oats, but would instead be using mainstream oats that had been mechanically separated from gluten grains, all I could think of is how I’m not willing to eat a salad that’s had the croutons picked out. Or use dried beans after picking out gluten grains. Because I would get sick. Every. Time.
I’ve eaten salads and gotten to the bottom to find a crouton or gotten half way through my salad and found pieces of a crouton. I’ve also gotten sick from salads with no obvious explanation and later learned that those salads had been mixed in the same bowl as other salads that contained croutons.
That’s what I think about when I consider separating gluten grains from oats and then calling them gluten free. Perhaps those crouton-removed salads and salads mixed in the same bowls as crouton-containing salads would test less than 20 ppm, but I know they would all make me sick.
Those mainstream oats are super contaminated with grains. How contaminated? See the table below from the study (led by Tricia Thompson) showing how gluten-contaminated mainstream oats are.
This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. So it should be pretty obvious that when mainstream oats are used in gluten-free products, testing is going to be absolutely critical.
~ General Mills is not using testing protocols that will keep the gluten-free public safe. The lot mean testing that General Mills conducts means that each and every box is NOT tested and the results from the boxes that are tested are averaged.
General Mills pulls a total of 12 to 18 boxes for each variety of gluten-free Cheerios (Original/Yellow Box, Honey Nut, Apple Cinnamon, Frosted, and Multigrain) from a day’s production cycle. Only 12 to 18 boxes get tested out of the day’s whole production and that testing is done via single samples from these boxes.
The samples are ground and tested and then all combined and tested again so the final testing value shows less than 20 ppm although there are values much higher than that in the individual samples taken from the boxes. General Mills does not go back and test those high value boxes further.
Even if GM did test the box further and the other samples from the boxes showed less than 20 ppm, would you want a box with any samples above 20 ppm? I would not. And the folks who got ill would probably tell you, “no thanks, I already got a box like that.”
From the beginning of its production of “gluten-free” Cheerios, General Mills has dogmatically repeated again and again that it ensures that its products are less than 20 ppm gluten, stating that it tests at four points in its production process. However, when questioned further after the recall, General Mills has stated that it did not conduct final product testing on the 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios that were recalled.
That’s correct; somehow that testing got skipped. However, let’s see how many boxes they would have been tested IF General Mills had conducting testing using its lot mean testing.
General Mills recalled Yellow Box Cheerios from 4 days of production and Honey Nut Cheerios from 13 days of production. If General Mills had tested the maximum number, 18 boxes, they test for any given production cycle, that means that a single sample (0.25 gram) would have been extracted and tested from 72 boxes of Yellow Box Cheerios and 234 boxes of Honey Nut Cheerios. That means that of 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios a single sample would have been tested from a total of 306 boxes.
Let me repeat that. Of 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios, 306 boxes would have been tested.
That’s way, way less than even 1 percent that would have been tested. Those 306 boxes would have been tested by extracting a single sample of 0.25 gram from each box, which would be ground and tested.
Per its current protocol, General Mills would have combined the single samples from the 18 boxes pulled each day and if that combined sample was less than 20 ppm, it would have let that whole day’s production go out the door to gluten-free consumers. Even if some of those samples were well above 20 ppm.
Does that make you feel safe eating “gluten-free” Cheerios? It should not. It should make it clear that we cannot eat “gluten-free” Cheerios until their processing and production changes for these products and each and every box—the whole box—is truly gluten free to less than 20 ppm. We’re not grinding up our boxes of cereal to evenly distribute gluten so that it tests less than 20 ppm and General Mills should not be either.
~ Since the recall, General Mills has answered very few questions about its processing and how what they have stated was “human error” occurred, why final production testing was skipped, how the Lodi facility was cleaned after the introduction of wheat flour into the products and facility, etc.
After the recall, Gluten-Free Watchdog wrote an open letter to General Mills and asked for additional data. GFW shared the “minimal,” non-helpful responses from General Mills to date and asked additional questions in its latest post, Lingering Questions Remain about Gluten-Free Cheerios Recall and Safety.
This post was published on October 13. To date, General Mills has not responded.
~ (UPDATED 10/16/15 4:04 pm): Before General Mills announced the recall to the general public, according to Cynthia Kupper’s GIG statement, their personnel made a group of dietitians aware of the recall before the public knew. I don’t know who that group was or when exactly they were told. I do know the following … so far.
The day before the recall was announced, General Mills sponsored a breakfast at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE). The FNCE is an event hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (which was formerly known as the American Dietetic Association). However, the hour-long breakfast was not an academy-sponsored event. The Dietitians in Gluten Intolerance Disease sub-unit of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics were invited. The breakfast was limited to 25 participants; only 15 dietitians registered.
Tricia Thompson has stated the following about this event via her post on the Gluten-Free Watchdog Facebook page:
“General Mills had previously given me the okay to listen to their presentation via phone but moments before the breakfast started I was told that General Mills was not allowing me to participate.”
“General Mills informed dietitians who attended the breakfast about the recall via email on Monday October 5 at 2:39 pm. The email contained links to both the press release about the recall and blog about the recall. These links were live.”
At the General Mills-sponsored breakfast, the General Mills Cheerios Team presented their data on the safety of “gluten-free” Cheerios. They presented the select group of registered dietitians with
their own boxes of specially-packaged Registered Dietitian Cheerios, on each one per table.
I do not know if any of the dietitians present accepted these boxes as freebies. I’m told that the dietitians asked “hard questions” and it was not a pleasant event for General Mills.
I imagine it would have been less pleasant had Tricia Thompson been allowed to participate at she knows this subject inside and out and knows which misleading statements and outright lies that General Mills has shared in the past and would have pointed those out/asked for additional clarification based on previous statements that General Mills had made.
While I certainly appreciate the dietitians asking hard questions of General Mills, we know that General Mills is not answering the hard questions or taking appropriate action. I’ve not seen any of these dietitians come out and speak out against “gluten-free” Cheerios despite their hard questions. At this point, I want action!
If General Mills is not going to take appropriate action to resolve these ongoing issues and make their “gluten-free” Cheerios truly gluten free, then I want action from the resources in our community. All of these individuals and organizations should be following the Gluten-Free Watchdog’s lead and recommending that anyone who eats gluten free for medical reasons should be abstaining from “gluten-free” Cheerios.
While boxes of gluten-full Cheerios remained on the shelves and in people’s homes making gluten-free individuals ill (and, yes, some of those folks were hospitalized), General Mills was wooing dietitians with special boxes of Cheerios
instead of letting the public know they had unsafe, gluten-full products and presenting information to them in very controlled fashion, without Tricia Thompson present.
I’ve been told that General Mills did not inform the dietitians who were present at the breakfast about the recall. I’ve been told that they were not told until the next day, which was the same day the information was released to the public (as noted in Tricia Thompson’s statement above).
That makes me curious why Cynthia Kupper made the statement that she did. I am not sure I’ll ever know the why behind that.
GIG’s website has been updated, but it shows both the original statement (“They are to be applauded for notifying a team of dietitians they met with the day before, asking everyone to spread the word about the recall.”) and a new statement: “There was no information about the recall shared at this previous day’s breakfast and the dietitians were notified the same day as the public announcement, but General Mills did request these experts’ services in helping to get the word out to the community.” Clearly, these two statements are in conflict.
Even with these updated details, I still think General Mills’ actions clearly show where its priorities lie and they’re not with the health of the gluten-free consumer.
~ (UPDATED: 10/17/15 1:13 am) The Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) said in their statement, Our Thoughts, after the recall that: “They [General Mills] are to be applauded for notifying a team of dietitians they met with the day before, asking everyone to spread the word about the recall.” I don’t see anything to applaud there, and now there’s a question of if and when that actually happened.
I have been told that dietitians were told about the recall on the same day as the public, but I still want to know if they were told before the public.
As previously stated above, per Tricia Thompson, the dietitians in attendance at the General Mills-sponsored breakfast were not made aware of the recall prior to the general public. GIG’s statement has been revised, but still contains conflicting statements at the time of this update.
GIG also said the following in its statement: “General Mills has too much to lose by not assuring their processes are strict and will meet or exceed the strictness of the labeling regulation. General Mills absolutely was being a responsible and concerned manufacturer when they issued a recall of Cheerios made in specifically identified plants.”
Let’s get real here. General Mills’ hand was forced by the FDA review, which discovered a sample that contained 43 ppm gluten, well above the less than 20 ppm that is allowed when a product is labeled gluten free.
General Mills stated that it discovered that wheat flour had been introduced into their processing at its Lodi (California) plant and voluntarily recalled 1.8 million boxes. A voluntary recall is a nice way for the FDA and a company with issues in products to come to terms.
Most food recalls are voluntary. A voluntary recall is not unlike a problem employee being given the opportunity to resign or be fired by its employer.
GIG’s statement came three days after the recall and in no way can it be considered advocating for the gluten-free community. This statement (uh, “thoughts”) from GIG Executive Director Cynthia Kupper is very different from the open letter that she wrote to Alice Bast, President of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), in 2012 regarding the since pulled NFCA Amber alert for Domino’s “gluten-free” pizza. That open letter is no longer on GIG’s site, but I did find it on another site and here are some excerpts:
“While GIG [Gluten Intolerance Group] appreciates Domino’s desire to offer a gluten-free pizza, we do not feel the effort put forth demonstrates a true commitment toward making a safe environment for producing gluten-free food.” and “I implore you to consider the community we all support and want to help.” and “The Amber designation sets us back years on all the strides we have made to get the food industry to embrace safe gluten-free foods.”
I highlighted certain text in blue and bolded it for emphasis. What is stated in the first part of Kupper’s wording to the NFCA is exactly what we are dealing with in regard to General Mills and its “gluten-free” Cheerios.
General Mills has not made a true commitment to making a safe environment for producing gluten-free food or for testing gluten-free food before they sell it to gluten-free consumers. The last two parts of her statement that are highlighted are done so because that is still what the gluten-free community requires, organizations that support and help it and a food industry that embraces safe gluten-free foods. Cynthia Kupper and GIG, “I implore you to consider the community we all support and want to help.”
Why would Kupper and GIG speak out against Domino’s but not General Mills? I can only speculate, but a few thoughts come to mind.
Kupper is a registered dietitian and has been closely aligned with the the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (hence her knowledge of the breakfast at the academy’s annual conference). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and its precursor the ADA have a long history of being sponsored by big food organizations, such as General Mills, Coca-Cola, and Kraft (which General Mills is a part of), so they will not bite the hand that feeds them.
I’ve been asked by one dietitian to revise this wording because as she noted there are dedicated dietitians in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, dietitians who work hard for the celiac community and my speculation here damages their integrity and credibility. Perhaps that’s true, but I believe the big food organization connection to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is a firm one and should be mentioned.
It’s one possible explanation for a statement that is “applauding” General Mills and calling them both “responsible” and “concerned.” None of those terms match the behavior of General Mills.
As far as there being dedicated dietitians who are part of AND who are working hard for the celiac community, I have no doubt this is true, but do us and yourselves a big favor if you want your integrity and credibility to stay intact, make yourselves heard on this matter. Now.
Don’t ask the hard questions behind closed doors or make other decisions because you don’t trust General Mills and its “gluten-free” Cheerios, but then refuse to speak out publicly on General Mills #notglutenfreeCheerios. That’s exactly what General Mills wants—for all the negative facts and opinions on their “gluten-free” Cheerios to be squelched.
Another thought (since we’re sharing “thoughts” here) is that GIG is hoping that General Mills will become one of its alliance partners or that General Mills will seek certification of its “gluten-free” Cheerios through its GFCO program (which is GIG’s main source of income).
The bottom line is that I and many others have found GIG’s “thoughts” to be anything but supportive of the gluten-free community. We deserve an official statement and one that looks out for our health, not more words praising General Mills and offering the tired and unacceptable disclaimer of “encouraging all consumers to make personal decisions related to the use of any product based on informed, well-educated decisions about risk.”
~ Other than the Gluten-Free Watchdog, none of the organizations and publications that are supposed to be looking out for the gluten-free community have done so in this situation. The NFCA has made two official statements of sorts–one here and another from President Alice Bast’s desk on October 7.
The Celiac Disease Foundation made its official statement this week, on October 13. The Celiac Support Association (CSA, formerly the Celiac Sprue Association) has still made no statement. It simply shared the basic recall info via Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) on its website.
The NFCA’s first statement urged General Mills to get third-party certification (which NFCA offers). Bast’s more personal statement, the second statement, was serious enough, but its focus was not really on General Mills and its “gluten-free” Cheerios so much as it was on the complexity of gluten-free labeling requirements and the difficulties that the gluten-free public has in general with getting truly gluten-free food. I felt it gave General Mills an “out” of sorts.
The Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF), led by Marilyn Geller (Chief Executive Officer), is sponsored by General Mills. CDF’s logo is displayed on boxes of “gluten-free” Cheerios where General Mills has indicated that it’s a “Proud Sponsor of the Celiac Disease Foundation.” Geller and CDF made a more serious statement—in Marilyn’s Message October 2015. It was aimed clearly at General Mills, which I appreciate.
However, this statement came over a week after the recall of “gluten-free” Cheerios. Update: When gluten-free consumers report getting ill from “gluten-free” Cheerios to the CDF, per gfe readers’ reports, the CDF’s response is always to tell them that they must have an issue with oats in general. When the reader responds to share that they eat other certified gluten-free oats without any issues, CDF does not respond at all.
Not one of these gluten-free organizations was willing to speak out against Cheerios and express concern regarding its use of mainstream oats and lot mean testing before the recall, even when they saw hundreds of reports of illness being shared—many of them shared in responses to their own organizations’ posts related to Cheerios online. (Update: This number has increased to thousands now.) Yet these organizations are the ones who are supposed to be watching our backs and they seek our contributions on a daily basis to do that for us. Choose your resources and spend your dollars wisely folks.
~ Gluten-free publications have not had our backs either. Gluten-Free Living (GFL) and Gluten Free and More (GF&M) are two magazines that have run full-page ads for gluten-free Cheerios and promoted them via their publications and social media. Even as so many individuals were getting ill, these publications were waxing poetic about how wonderful it was to have “gluten-free” Cheerios available and see “gluten-free” Cheerios commercials aired during the Emmy’s.
When many readers commented that they had gotten ill from “gluten-free” Cheerios or questioned GFL and GF&M about these products because of mainstream oats being used and lot mean testing being used by General Mills, GFL and GF&M did not respond for the most part. I, myself, addressed GFL on its Facebook page about its Emmy post stating how disappointed I was that GFL would not address the issues with “gluten-free” Cheerios and look out for the gluten-free community.
I was told that GFL was following business per usual. That was not my feeling.
Note that it was only after another gluten-free blogger friend advised one of GFL’s Facebook readers who was reporting an illness from Cheerios to contact the FDA to report their reaction that GFL said something to the effect of “oh, yeah, do contact your FDA to report a reaction as you normally would with any product.” (I can’t share the exact quote as that post was deleted from GFL’s Facebook page.)
Interestingly, GFL just posted on their social media pages about Panera bread offering a “gluten-conscious” bread. See their Facebook post here. GFL stated that ” handling procedures will make this bread unsafe for those who have #celiacdisease.” While I certainly agree with GFL’s assessment on this new product, I still think GFL was remiss in not saying that General Mills’ lot mean testing will make “gluten-free” Cheerios unsafe for those who have celiac disease (or anyone who lives gluten free for medical reasons) and expressing major concerns about the use of mainstream oats even before we learned about General Mills’ lot mean testing. To address this obvious issue with Panera Bread’s product but not to address the other obvious issues with “gluten-free” Cheerios seems at best, inconsistent.
To its credit, GFL has been actively reporting on the “gluten-free” Cheerios recently, first sharing that they were under FDA review, then sharing the recall, and, more recently, FDA’s response to the recall.
~ In this situation, it doesn’t matter if you’ll ever eat “gluten-free” Cheerios, if you don’t eat processed foods, if you think these products are “crap” whether they’re gluten free or not, if you avoid preservatives, if you can’t tolerate even certified gluten-free oats, and the list goes on. What matters here is that “gluten free” should mean “gluten free” and we all should be looking out for each other in the gluten-free community.
It is unacceptable to see individuals getting ill and turn a blind eye because one has gotten lucky thus far with the boxes of “gluten-free” Cheerios consumed. Oh, and after all, “gluten free” must actually mean “gluten free” to less than 20 ppm gluten for each and every product; it’s the law.
Many in the gluten-free community worked hard to see the gluten-free labeling law passed so that we could have a standard. (We were led by the able team of Jules Shepherd (GF Jules) and John Forberger.) The goal was to see “gluten free” on the label and know what it meant for each and every product labeled “gluten free.”
The law went into effect in August of 2014. It mandates that gluten-free products must contain less than 20 ppm gluten from all sources, including cross contact.
It is not a perfect solution for a number of reasons, and I’d like to highlight two of those reasons. First, experts like Dr. Alessio Fasano have said that less than 20 ppm gluten is an acceptable amount of gluten for most individuals with celiac disease, not all.
Second, the law doesn’t require that companies actually test their products, but instead the FDA states that the onus of responsibility lies with the manufacturer and that it will pursue any consumer complaints as it is currently doing with General Mills and its “gluten-free” Cheerios. However, the law did set a standard that companies must follow and we are grateful for that. Most companies are taking their responsibility to the gluten-free community seriously and ensuring that their products are gluten free to less than 5 ppm gluten—the lowest level to which current gluten-free testing methods are considered accurate.
If General Mills is allowed to continue with its lot mean testing—which equates to extracting one tiny sample from a minimal number of boxes and averaging the results to get less than 20 ppm—not only will many more in the gluten-free community end up getting a “bad box,” a gluten-full box, and getting ill, but this case will set a precedent and a “gluten free” label will completely lose its value. After that, what would stop other food manufacturers from following suit versus ensuring all their products are gluten free as the law states? Nothing, if the FDA does not ensure that General Mills “gluten-free” Cheerios actually become gluten free and we, the gluten-free public, don’t demand that General Mills change its processing and provide truly gluten-free Cheerios.
Make your voice heard every way possible. You can start by signing the petition to the FDA and General Mills. (Update: This petition is now closed. Click the button below.)
Please share this petition link (update: this petition is now closed) with everyone else, not just gluten-free individuals but also your friends and family members who believe gluten free should always be gluten free and don’t want to see folks ill. Thank you!
Do Not Eat “Gluten-Free” Cheerios. Period.
General Mills Has Recalled 1.8 Million Boxes of “Gluten-Free” Cheerios To Date.
General Mills is Using Mainstream Oats (vs Purity Protocol Oats) and Lot Mean Testing for Its “Gluten-Free” Cheerios, Which Means That Not Every Box Is Tested for Gluten.
Many in Gluten-Free Community Have Gotten Ill and Many Continue to Get Ill, Even from Boxes Not Recalled
General Mills Is Not Responding to Calls for More Information, Is Still Blaming Those Who Are Getting Ill, and More
Choose Your Gluten-Free Resources and Spend Your Dollars Wisely Folks. Support Those Who Look Out for YOU!
Contact the FDA If You Got Ill from “Gluten-Free” Cheerios (Call (800) 332-1088 (choose option 4) or report online here.)
We Can’t Lose This Battle; “Gluten Free” Has to Truly Mean “Gluten Free”
Sign the Petition to the FDA and General Mills (Update: This petition is now closed.)
More Data on Why You Should Stop Eating Gluten-Free Cheerios
If you wish to dig into this subject a little more, I highly recommend reading the following articles. Although some of these articles were written before the Cheerios recall, they share information that is still valid and worth a read.
~ All of Gluten-Free Watchdog’s Articles on “Gluten-Free” Cheerios (scroll down on page to see them all and click on titles as you go or click on titles on sidebar)
But the bottom line is that you need to stop eating gluten-free Cheerios!
Originally published October 16, 2015; updated February 26, 2022.