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)
~ The Cheerios Recall (aka … The Gluten-Free Sh*t Storm)
~ Cheerios Recall and Ten Reasons I’m Mad at General Mills
~ Cheerios Update: Phone Call with General Mills
~ Dear General Mills, About Your “Gluten-Free” Cheerios
~ Five Things You Need to Know About Gluten-Free Cheerios
~ The Gluten-Free Cheerios Deception
~ Pissing in the Gluten-Free Cheerios
~ Why Are We Celebrating Gluten-Free Cheerios?
But the bottom line is that you need to stop eating gluten-free Cheerios!
Originally published October 16, 2015; updated February 26, 2022.
Leah McGrath says
Hi, I was one of the dietitians at the breakfast sponsored by Cheerios at theAcademy of Nutrition and Dietetics meeting ..as was Shelley Case, Canadian dietitian and celiac disease expert and Cynthia Kupper of GIG. We very definitely were NOT told of the recall at that breakfast. It was not until the next day that we learned of it which was the same day information was released publicly.
Hi Leah–I appreciate you taking the time to leave these comments and share more details on the event and the fact that GM did not release the information on the recall to the group of dietitians at the breakfast. After re-reading Cynthia Kupper’s GIG statement yet another time (“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.”), I am now still questioning who the group of dietitians were who were informed the day before and when did that notification actually happen. You state that “It was not until the next day that we learned of it which was the same day information was released publicly.” Were you and other dietitians told before the information went public, Leah?
I do appreciate you and others asking the tough questions of General Mills, but I really appreciate the few folks who after receiving answers (or lack thereof) from General Mills then go on to recommend that anyone who eats gluten free for medical reasons refrain from eating “gluten-free” Cheerios. That’s what I want to hear from everyone who is in a trusted position in the gluten-free community, because it’s the only logical recommendation at this point and not giving that recommendation is an endorsement for these products IMO.
When I first heard about the Cheerios I was thrilled, because I had always liked them as a child. I knew some wise people had reservations, but when I saw a box at Wegman’s, I bought them. I ate a small amount the first day, and had a slight stomach ache, and mood swings. I attributed that to not getting enough sleep, and waited a few days before I tried them again. When I eat anything with gluten, I have a terrible time with stomach pains and mood swings. Major temper tantrums, crying, screaming, and collapsing in total exhaustion. Not pretty. Boy did I learn my lesson from this. My son and husband can eat gluten but choose not to eat it so we can maintain a gluten free home, and they both like Cheerios, but after what happened to me, they refused to touch them. The box is going out in the garbage this week. I was looking forward to seeing gluten free Lucky Charms in the future, but not anymore. General Mills will have to work really hard to regain my trust after this one, and I am boycotting them for some time to come. I won’t even buy the Chex line anymore because I am so frustrated and angry about this. I didn’t pay attention to the warnings because I didn’t want them to be true, and I learned my lesson. We have had a lot of things in the past couple of years, and I did heed the warnings for them, but not this one. General Mills is a reputable, respected company, but they tried to pull one over on us, and I think they knew they were deceiving us. I have read a lot more on this subject, and the recall, and them ducking emails and not answering them, certainly points to this. The very next time anything seems too good to be true, I will know that it probably is another disappointment. I will stick to companies that can be trusted, and sadly, General Mills is no longer one of them. Thanks for the post Shirley. Hopefully if anyone was on the fence, they will read your post and check out the links, and make a smarter decision than I did! We always have to be vigilant even when we don’t want to. It just isn’t worth the risk to take chances.
I used to enjoy Cheerios with a sliced banana even well into adulthood, Mari. I am so sorry that you got so ill from these products but, unfortunately, I am not surprised. 🙁 I appreciate you sharing how after Day One, you attributed your reaction to other issues. I think MANY adults who are eating these cereals are doing exactly what you did after the first time eating them. I am particularly concerned about children as they can’t always express themselves on such matters and also aren’t always as tuned into their bodies. Plus, their parents might attribute their symptoms to a host of issues as life can bring so many, you know? A late night studying, a stressful day at school, etc. I am really glad that you have become so well informed and that your family is supporting you, dear! Thanks for your kind words, Mari. I do hope this post will keep at least person from taking a risk on these #notglutenfreeCheerios. Last, did you report your illness to the FDA? I hope you will if you haven’t already. Here’s the info again: call (800) 332-1088 (choose option #4) or report online here. Everyone needs to be counted so the FDA and GM will take this matter as seriously as it deserves. And I hope you will sign the petition here, Mari. I so appreciate your support! Have a good weekend!
Leah McGrath says
(Addendum to my earlier comment). Additionally, at that breakfast meeting there were many pointed questions asked of General Mills about their testing methods, why they were not using the “purity protocol” and how they were reacting to consumers reporting adverse reactions. It was by no means a pleasant event for GM.
I am so frustrated!!!! What is it going to take for anyone to take us seriously?! I saw from Gluten Free Watchdog yesterday that wheat starch is considered “gluten free” in the US and some products are starting to use it. We went to a restaurant on my son’s birthday with a “gluten-free” menu and they had NO IDEA that our food couldn’t touch their contaminated fryer or other surfaces. I am so tired of our disease being a joke!! It makes me so sad for my little kids who will have to live with this forever. And now to find out that gluten-free bloggers are going along with this General Mills fiasco makes it even worse! If we can’t stick up for ourselves and each other, all because of a little money, then we are hypocrites. Thank you, Shirley, for taking so much time to educate your readers.
Hi Lisa–I feel the same way. The use of a gluten-free label without the necessary knowledge and precautions behind it is very, very frustrating. In this particular situation, there are many who not taking this issue seriously—all the way down the line, from General Mills to the numerous resources in the gluten-free community to gluten-free consumers. It is very disheartening and, as you said, it’s an occurrence that’s becoming much more widespread. The fact that folks are eating gluten free at will (and sometimes not eating gluten free) just because they want to, is making “gluten free” mean “mostly gluten free, but not really.” I honestly wonder how many gluten-free bloggers are practicing strict gluten-free living at all. I am seeing more and more who are not strictly gluten free or who are celiac and should be, but do not seem to be taking necessary precautions. In the case of these Cheerios products, many of them seem to want to “believe,” if you know what I mean. I’ve seen some say they know they should not be eating them and should not be taking the risk, but they can’t stop themselves. It’s all sad, mind boggling, and dangerous–for them and the rest of the gf community. 🙁 Thanks for the kind words, Lisa, and for taking care of yourself and your kids! It is so very important!
I have noticed your passion about this topic on FB and have taken some interest because the subject has been mentioned in our newspapers. What is going on? It seems to me that there needs to be a change in the law. Why is it just the manufacturer’s responsibility? – Gluten Free should be Gluten Free!
The fact that the product seems to have been and continues to be supported by so called “experts” doesn’t surprise me. Hats off to you too! This article needed to be written.
This product isn’t available in the UK – yet (as far as I am aware). Let’s hope our laws will not support the brand if it does become available.
Hi Vicky–I appreciate you taking an interest and also for your support, of course! The FDA putting the onus of responsibility on the manufacturer is not a good thing as you’ve said. This . It’s so sad that you and many others are not surprised that “experts” are supporting these unsafe products. I believe things have changed in this regard the last few years, and not for the better. 🙁 Everyone in the gluten-free community used to take their responsibility to others so very seriously, as they should have. Now, with few exceptions, you see products like these being shared with one disclaimer after another: “While General Mills has made vast steps to make Cheerios safe for larger populations to eat, please do your own research and make your own choices based off of the needs of you and your family.”; “You can just take my word for it or do your own research, read other blogs, read the marketing pieces, and decide what is the best decision for you.”; and so on. Why share any product when there’s ANY doubt that it’s safe? That’s simply unconscionable to me. I hope your laws won’t support such a product and that our FDA and General Mills will do the right thing immediately or pull these products.
Thanks for taking the time to comment, Vicky. You’ve been in my thoughts and prayers during your recovery! Big hugs,
Thank you so much for being so caring, it’s not been a good time but life goes on and your thoughts mean so much to me! I agree that it is so thoughtless to post about this product with disclaimers attached, many people wouldn’t even notice a disclaimer! I wish you luck with this battle, until the manufacturers of cereal buy oats grown by farmers using the “purity protocol” these products will never be safe.
I’m so sorry, Vicky. I wish I were close by and could bring you some delicious gluten-free, vegetarian food and share a cup of tea with you. 😉 I hope this will all be behind you soon, dear.
I agree with you on both the disclaimers and the need for purity protocol oats. Onward in the push for the latter and I’m sincerely hoping that everyone involved will start putting the needs of the gluten-free community first. Well, hoping can be pipe dreaming, so I’ll amend that to say that I want the gluten-free community to unfollow/unsupport the resources who are unwilling to share all the facts and look out for the gf consumer above all.
Good job getting this post done! I know it has been difficult for you to write, but your emotions related to the subject help to communicate its importance. I’m sure some new people were reached, and I bet it helped you to document your thoughts. As I’ve stated in my blog posts, I don’t eat any cereal yet this issue concerns me. General Mills should not be able to get away with this behavior and if they do, there will likely be more companies to follow.
Johnna Perry says
I agree with Linda. While I am not a cereal eater (and don’t understand the oft-stated comments about Cheerios making one feel “normal”), I am concerned for the entire gluten-free community. I appreciate you continuing to advocate for all of us.
As I’ve mentioned to you in the past Shirley, when I was diagnosed I was given limited information by my doctor. This seems to be the case with many. I turned to the internet for help and found bloggers, including you, who were great at sharing reliable information. And then I became one of you, a food writer and advocate. I feel the tide has turned with so many of us working to monetize our blogs and get paid for our work. While I don’t think it is wrong to get paid for creating recipes, sharing helpful information, etc., I don’t ever want that to get in the way of providing information that is important, honest, reliable to our community. I admire your willingness to point out this particular area of concern in this matter.
Thank you again for your hard work for our entire community.
Hi Johnna–Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and sharing your kind words and thoughts here, but I need to offer you a gazillion thanks for all you’ve done on this issue for all of us in the gluten-free community! Your map sharing the reports of illness was a huge eye opener for many. Oh how I wish we had all the data on how many got ill from recalled boxes and non-recalled boxes at the snap of a finger! And if we could have a giant map and could attach faces to all those dots, it would be even more of an eye opener.
Of course, I agree with you that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being compensated for work on one’s blog (I have sponsored posts as well), but the FTC came up with the rules on disclosure for a reason. The reason, of course, is because it’s almost impossible to be completely unbiased when sharing reviews of products and info on them, so the FTC wants our readers to know that association. Many brands require that bloggers say nothing negative at all on their products per their contract with the blogger. If there’s nothing negative to say, that’s great, but there aren’t too any reviews (of any product) that don’t merit some honest comments that might be viewed as negative by the brand. And all that applies to just sharing a personal opinion on a product (it tastes good or it tastes great; it’s wonderfully moist or too dry; etc.). That kind of thing goes out the window when we’re talking about a company that in producing its “gluten-free” products a) uses a questionable/unproven way of separating oats from gluten b) uses lot mean testing c) treats consumers who call in to report illness poorly, d) makes hundreds ill (via recalled boxes and other boxes). 🙁 As you know, I was one of the bloggers who took part in the first gluten-free bloggers summit at General Mills in 2010. They told us then that consumers are 12 times more likely to listen to bloggers than brands. That factor might have even increased in 5 years. Anyway, there’s just so much more involved in these types of collaborations than might meet the eye.
Those of us who find this situation unacceptable and illegal will keep on advocating for the gluten-free community to get these products “fixed” or pulled off the market!
Hi Linda–I truly appreciate your positive feedback. Yes, I have really struggled with this post and the whole situation. I still can’t believe we’re dealing with it … at all. Writing the post has definitely helped me and some have already told me that this was news to them and that they won’t be eating “gluten-free” Cheerios (or eating them any longer). That means so much to me and I know to you as well. (I greatly appreciate all the posts you have done on this topic thus far!) I don’t eat cereal either and I get frustrated at others who don’t eat cereal or choose not to eat Cheerios, but still don’t see why they should care about this issue. The recall is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to resolve this situation properly so that other companies won’t follow suit and individuals won’t continue to get ill. I worry so much about children who can get easily dehydrated when exposed to gluten because of their low body weight and all who might have other conditions triggered by gluten exposure. The danger is real.
Shirley, Just had to write to thank you for all you do for the gluten free community. Even though I typically eat grain free, so I didn’t try the offending Cheerios, I do eat gluten free on occasion. Your commitment to this issue has been incredible, and I wanted to let you know it is appreciated!
We are still in Black Mountain, NC, for 2 more weeks, and as you promised, this is a gluten free friendly area. Thanks again. Nancy
Hi Nancy–Thanks so much! I really appreciate you taking the time to leave such a lovely comment! 🙂 Admittedly, I’m not challenging this situation alone. Our group is very small, but what we lack in size, we make up for in our commitment. 😉
I appreciate you making me visualize Black Mountain, Nancy. I bet it’s gorgeous there right now (or will be soon). I’m so glad that you’ve found it to be a gluten free friendly area. That always makes life easier, doesn’t it? Haven’t been to that area in a few years, but hope to visit in the not too distant future.
I know this wasn’t an easy post to research, write, think about, rewrite and publish. A lot of work went into this and those of us in the gluten-free community appreciate your efforts! Well done, my friend. Like Johnna, I don’t eat these cereals, but as a nutritionist specializing in gluten-related conditions, I’m concerned for those who put trust in the food industry. Sadly, the more you learn, the less you trust any of these big organizations. Thanks for taking the time to shed some light on this issue. Hopefully your (and the many others involved) advocacy will pay off in safer and more transparent production practices from the big guns in the food industry.
Hey Melissa–I really appreciate you commenting here and your support on this matter. What’s as amazing to me as the actions of the big organizations involved in this situation is the individuals in the gluten-free community promoting these products who would like to portray those of us speaking out as being “crazy,” and “unfair” to General Mills. For so many reasons, I sincerely hope there’s a resolution of this situation soon. Nobody else should be sickened by “gluten-free” Cheerios.
Shirley, thank you for taking a strong stand on this issue, and for helping so many eat safely.
Hi Mary–It’s good to see you here at gfe again. I just wish it was under more fun circumstances. Thanks so much for your kind and supportive words, dear! I hope you’ll sign the petition and share it with others.
Ina Gawne says
Wow….Shirley, thank you sooo much for sharing this valuable information…this is why I love you and your site!!! I signed the petition….and will share with friends. I have never been a cereal lover, however, there are times when in a pinch cereal will have to do. Not this cereal…no way. In fact, now I will question all of General Mills products. Shame on them. I am like you…the slightest amount of gluten contamination and I will instantly be very ill. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your insights, sharing and wisdom….you are a blessing to the Gluten Free World and please know, that I very much appreciate your passion and all of the research that you do to share with us on GFE! 🙂
Hi Ina–You are so sweet and so supportive—thank you! We all really appreciate you signing the petition! I used to love cereal, but I’ve not missed it since going gluten free. Still, I would love for the members of our gluten-free community to be able to enjoy it safely if they wished.
I do not have celiac disease, and I do not have any reason to eat a gluten-free diet, but I want to add my voice and my own thoughts.
Sadly, what has become a necessity for some people has become merely a fad diet and an expanding market for others, and therein lies the basis of this whole problem, I think. Few people outside of celiac sufferers truly understand the full spectrum of the effects of exposure to gluten, and the long-term damage that can be the eventual result.
Instead, companies see an untapped market and a way to increase profits. Perhaps a few online writers see it as a way to enhance their profiles and maybe increase awareness. Everyone thinks it will all be okay.
What gets lost is The Human Factor: it’s Real People with celiac disease who are trusting the label, trusting the endorsement, and eating the product. Kids eat Cheerios. College students eat Cheerios. Families eat Cheerios. Single men eat Cheerios. Grandparents eat Cheerios.
Endorsers including weak statements like “report your reactions to the FDA as you normally would” or “eat at your own risk” is the same as the politic apology “I’m sorry if you were offended.” Reminds me of the old SNL skit of the unscrupulous toymaker who marketed the “Bag O’ Glass” because it was pretty, shiny, and it was giving kids what they wanted. It carried the warning of “Kids, be careful–broken glass.” But General Mills doesn’t even do that.
Hi Nance–I read your comment and somehow replied to it “in my head” vs actually replying here. 🙁 Thanks so much for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful reply. You’ve stated it all so well and so succinctly per usual. (Great analogy with the SNL skit.) The only thing that is going to change General Mills’ actions on these products is the money factor. There’s a class action lawsuit now. That might make the difference! For the health of all who are succumbing to GM’s marketing ploys, I sincerely hope the lawsuit will stop GM. Anyway, it’s all a sad state of affairs and now Quaker is following suit with its gluten-free oatmeal.
I don’t know how I missed seeing this post earlier! Great roundup of info. I taught an intro RD class last week and most had no idea about Cheerios.
The group of RDs most likely to know (DIGID) were not informed. I’m assuming that was mistake.
Thanks for your work advocating.
Shirley Braden says
Hi Cheryl–Thanks for taking the time to comment, especially since you didn’t see this post when it first came out. I am both shocked and not shocked that the RDs who are helping folks go gluten free had no idea about Cheerios. There seems to be both a protective bubble and “aura” around General Mills and its “gluten-free” Cheerios. 🙁 It angers me so that people are still getting ill every day from “gluten-free” Cheerios and that so many don’t know this or choose to ignore it, with the latter including General Mills itself. This ongoing situation should not be happening. It is the opposite situation from what we expected/hoped for after rallying so hard to get the gluten-free labeling law established. Those of us who truly care will continue to advocate for the gluten-free community. Thank you for being one of the small minority that truly cares!
I’m not gluten-free, and seldom eat cereal, but I think it’s ridiculous that gluten contamination would not be taken seriously. Would we want something labeled as “peanut-free” to have rubbed up against some peanuts along the way, or have a few samples tested and they say, “we didn’t see any peanuts in that one!”, or being optically sorted from something that contains peanuts… you get the idea. If something is being labeled as “free” of anything that people avoid for medical reasons, then not insuring that it is actually free of that thing is unscrupulous and basically just says “I don’t actually care if people get sick from this product, as long as we make a buck”. 🙁
I will sign your petition.
Shirley Braden says
Hi Christa–Welcome to gfe! Albeit a bit belatedly. 😉 I so appreciate you supporting those of us who eat gluten free for medical reasons via this comment and signing the petition! Oh, those of us who need to live this way to survive totally know what you mean for sure. We just need to get the FDA to enforce the rules to keep us safe because clearly all food manufacturers can’t be trusted in this area. 🙁