Gluten-Related Disorder? Stop Eating Gluten-Free CheeriosTricia Thompson
To the Gluten Free Watchdog Community:
This afternoon General Mills announced a recall of certain lots of regular Yellow Box and Honey Nut Cheerios. According to the press release the lots impacted were produced at the facility in Lodi, California during a four-day period for Yellow Box and thirteen-day period for Honey Nut. If you have boxes of Cheerios in your pantry please check the Better if Used By Date for the following:
|Honey Nut Cheerios||Honey Nut Cheerios||Honey Nut Cheerios||Yellow Box Cheerios|
According to General Mills, this recall is due to wheat flour being accidentally introduced into the oat flour. However, if the testing on final product Cheerios is as good as General Mills thinks it is then these lots of Cheerios never would have left the plant and made it to market.
Gluten Free Watchdog’s very strong recommendation at this time is to avoid Cheerios until General Mills improves their testing methodology and protocol.
Just a reminder of how General Mills tests Cheerios for gluten contamination:
General Mills pulls 12 to 18 boxes during a 24 hour production cycle, grinds the contents of each box, takes a sample from the contents of each box, mixes all the samples together and regrinds, tests 12 sub-samples, and averages the results to provide a lot mean.
When I visited General Mills I was shown extraction values for some of the lots of yellow box Cheerios produced during the gluten-free validation phase (these Cheerios did NOT go into boxes labeled gluten-free). One extraction from one of the lots was above 90 parts per million of gluten. Because the other extraction values were so low, the lot mean was somewhere in the range of 10 to 13 ppm gluten. As a result this lot was viewed as “good to go.”
My recommendation to General Mills in person and online has been and continues to be the following:
In the opinion of Gluten Free Watchdog, if test results on a composite sample of 12 to 18 boxes of Cheerios include any values at or above 20 ppm of gluten, General Mills should explore the reason for these findings via testing of the individual boxes of Cheerios used in the composite. A result at or above 20 ppm should not be discounted as simply a random hot spot (e.g., due to an errant small fleck of barley) just because the lot mean is below 20 ppm of gluten.
And now I add the following: General Mills …
If you had investigated high test results from your composite sample testing versus blaming these results on errant barley flakes maybe this never would have happened.
If you had taken consumer reports of illness seriously from the beginning maybe this situation would have been detected sooner, preventing so many from getting sick.
If you had not been so darn sure of yourselves maybe you would have listened to those who were trying to help prevent this from happening.
Gluten Free Watchdog will be testing eight boxes of Cheerios involved in the recall to determine the gluten level in these products.
UPDATE: According to a letter from General Mills posted on GFWD’s Facebook, “finished product testing was not done on these run dates, and therefore this problem was not discovered at the time of production.”
Thanks for the update Tricia!
You are welcome, Al. Sorry for the delay in responding. I am so not myself. So very very angry at General Mills.
Thank you, Tricia, for all you do on behalf of the celiac community. It is obvious you spend an enormous amount of time looking out for us. You ARE appreciated!
Thanks, Andrea for your sweet comment.
It was bound to happen.
Thank you for letting the celiac community know about this Tricia.
I am one of that small percentage of celiacs who reacts to even certified gluten free oats so I did not try the Cheerios but I would not have tried them anyway as it seemed General Mills was not following good protocols.
According to General Mills absolutely no testing was done on finished product Cheerios from the impacted lots. These lots represent 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios. Yes, General Mills has a lot to change when it comes to protocols.
I told my boyfriend and mother this has gluten in it, I said look how swelled I am then awhile later my stomach was killing me I suffered for 4 days.
So sorry to hear this, Laura. Did you contact FDA?
Not yet Tricia.
Thank you for all that you do for the celiac community and for your professional support of the consumer through your tireless, diligent and metiulous communication with the food industry from seed to grower to transporter to processor to the ultimate consumer and the FDA.
Thank you from the bottom of safe GF my celiac digestive tract!
Thank you for making the world celiac safer.
Warm GF regards,
Donna, Thank you so much for your very kind comments.
I cannot see how the FDA can continue to allow something like this. If this were a peanut allergy thing, there is zero chance it would be allowed. You just cannot say something is free of an ingredient, when the likelihood of contamination from that ingredient is so high, and then just not test for it.
Thanks for the update.
The fact that General Mills did not test these particular lots representing 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios is dumbfounding. This is an email exchange I had with General Mills mid to late July (right when these contaminated lots were being produced):
I asked General Mills if they were basing their decision on the safety of a “lot” of boxed Cheerios on the lot mean or whether individual extractions above 20 parts per million of gluten raised alarm bells.
Their response: “With all the learning we have done on our journey to bring gluten-free Cheerios to market, we know that looking only at a single data point does not represent the entire picture. As we shared with you, we conduct a minimum of 12 tests on any given sample of Cheerios. In doing so, we look first at the lot mean to give us an initial indication of safety. However, we also look at the confidence interval around the lot mean to tell us about the variability of the individual extractions. It is through a thorough assessment of all the data, we can have confidence around the safety of any given sample or lot.”
I left the following comment on General Mills blog, but they refused to post it:
What a disappointing start on your journey to provide safe GF Cheerios for the celiac community. This is exactly what so many celiacs were concerned about and why there has been so much controversy surrounding the debut of this product. GF foods are big business. If you are more interested in making money than ensuring the safety/health of the celiac consumer, please don’t put us at risk! I have been hearing about people who have been getting sick after eating GF Cheerios for quite some time. Why did it take General Mills so long to admit there was a problem? What happened to the testing you were supposed to do to ensure your product was safe for celiacs? If you had an appropriate testing protocol in place, your contaminated products never would have gotten in the hands of those who are at risk.
General Mills has not replied to my email either.
I found it interesting that on CBS This Morning they reported that General Mills is recalling GF Cheerios because they might contain an ingredient that could make someone sick. Then, a few minutes later, a new advertisement for GF Cheerios was aired. Am I the only one who thinks that’s STRANGE?
I cannot fathom how General Mills could possibly see the “group box testing” method as being safe enough. Even a casual observer would recognize that if you grind up ten boxes of GF Cheerios and average them out, the average might be below 20ppm, but that in no way ensures that any particular box isn’t ABOVE 20ppm. That’s how averages work. It’s incredible that General Mills refuses to recognize basic math.
And they weren’t even doing mean testing on these lots. Absolutely no finished product testing was done. Unreal.
I am so disappointed in General Mills. I will probably never trust them again. Cheerios was my favorite cereal before I was diagnosed, so I was really looking forward to this debut.Thank you so much Tricia for what you are doing on behalf of all of us with Celiac! Keep pushing!
Thanks for commenting, Sally. General Mills has undoubtedly lost the trust of many in the gluten-free community.
Tricia, we are proud of you! You do an amazing job. I’ve been following you throughout your tireless efforts in the whole Cheerios saga. This incident is SO vindicating for you, such an affirmation. You should use it in your marketing and advertising. BEWARE, MANUFACTURERS: WATCHDOG ON DUTY!
Thank you, Kevin. Your support means so much.
I do not understand WHY this recall has not been announced through the FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts. I subscribe to their alerts and have not gotten one for the Cheerios yet today I received 1 for General Mills Frozen Cascadian Farms Green Beans:
See for yourself that the Cheerios are not on the list of recalls:
This is not just a matter of an ingredient harmful to celiacs but ALSO one of the top 8 allergens!!!!
I just keep asking myself, “Who is minding the store???!!!”
Wheat flour got dumped in the oat flour.
WHO IS MINDING THE STORE???!!!
The finished product was not tested before it left the door.
WHO IS MINDING THE STORE????!!!!
Well finally I see they got around to putting it on the FDA Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts. I just got the email in my inbox.
I’m rolling my eyes at their statement that they are “recalling several days of production” when in fact, it’s thirteen days of production of Honey Nut Cheerios and four days production of original (yellow box) Cheerios. Wow, I never knew 13 days qualified as several days. Seems they can’t even do simple math.
I called General Mills today and, when I forced the issue, they finally admitted that it was “human error” that they never did any final product testing because they forgot. They also said that their investigation of problems with people getting sick from Honey Nut Cheerios, which I saw at least a month ago online, took more than a month.
This whole situation is outrageous and I am appalled. They have probably destroyed what could have been a huge marketing success.
I am so angry about this. What I also don’t understand is how General Mills could have made such a big deal about how many boxes would be tested per batch and then test nothing. What kind of quality control procedures do they have in place. This makes wonder about all of their products.
Hi Katy, My sentiments exactly. I will be posting about this today.
There is no excuse for this. It tells me that gluten sensitivity is still not taken seriously. NECCO has been in a “back and forth” with General Mills trying to get them to admit Cheerios products are not gluten free. It is obvious their testing methods leave much to be desired. General Mills should be educated on the seriousness of the affect gluten has on people with Celiac or a gluten sensitivity. All of this makes me very angry.