Open letter to General Mills’ Gluten-Free Cheerios Team on Behalf of the Gluten Free Watchdog CommunityTricia Thompson
Dear General Mills’ Cheerios Team,
Your recent recall of 13 lots of Honey Nut and 4 lots of Yellow Box Cheerios and subsequent explanation of how these products made it to market has raised many questions. One of the biggest concerns is the apparent discrepancy between what you told the community about your testing protocols and what you were actually doing. It is important that you provide a thorough and honest explanation.
What you were actually doing
You stated to me in an email on October 6th, “We tested the oat supply – and the oat supply tested as gluten free. We tested the oat flour being used – and our oat flour supply also tested as gluten free on all of the recall code dates. Unfortunately, an amount of wheat flour was introduced into our otherwise gluten free production system through human error, and finished product was not tested on these run dates.” Emphasis mine.
What you told Gluten Free Watchdog you were doing
- As you know, when we met at Medallion Labs on July 15th, you provided me with the following information:
Data Collection and Test Results for Yellow Box Cheerios Provided by General Mills
General Mills has four plants producing gluten-free Cheerios using what they term “validated gluten-free flour.” At the time of my visit to General Mills (July 14 to 16) they had 88 production dates or “lots” of testing data. Each data point represents a “lot mean.”
General Mills defines a “lot” as a 24-hour production cycle. To arrive at a lot mean, the following protocol is followed:
- Twelve to eighteen boxes of cereal are pulled during a production cycle
- The contents of each individual box are ground
- A sub-sample of ground product is taken from each box
- The sub-samples are composited—meaning they are combined
- The combined sub-samples are subject to additional grinding
- Twelve extractions are taken from this combined, ground sample
- Extractions are tested using the Ridascreen Fast Gliadin (R7002) and cocktail extraction solution
- In an email sent on July 21st you responded to a series of questions. One Q&A was:
Is General Mills basing their decision on the safety of a “lot” of boxed Cheerios on the lot mean or do individual extractions above 20 parts per million raise alarm bells?
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.
What you told the gluten-free community you were doing
- On August 4th you sent some members of the gluten-free community, including Gluten Dude (http://glutendude.com/celiac/gluten-free-cheerios-update/) the following email (included here with permission from Gluten Dude):
“I just wanted to share an update with you on Gluten Free Cheerios, in the interest of continuing the dialogue with you. We know there have been some concerns in the celiac community, and one of the ways we want to address those concerns is through increased transparency. I know you’ve seen Tricia’s recent post on Cheerios, and we continue to work directly with her to address her concerns. The below is new data of our first month of production that we have not published yet but will continue to be part of our transparency journey with the celiac community. I wanted to share it with you immediately to help alleviate any concerns you may have about the safety of our product for your community.
We have 34 days of Original Cheerios production across our 4 Cheerios plants. Each of those run days has at least 12 samples that we pull.
– The mean ppm of those samples is 7.
– 30 days had an average < 10ppm – 2 days = 11ppm; 2 days = 12ppm Furthermore, we have some data on some of the other flavors (that run less frequently due to size of business). – Multi-Grain Cheerios: 2 run days across 2 plants — Mean <5ppm – Apple Cinnamon Cheerios: 1 run day across 1 plant –Mean <5ppm As always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are likely talking to Tricia on the 12th or 13th and would be happy to update you on some of the specifics of that dialogue once we land on the date. Thank you!”
- You produced a graphic about your “rigorous” testing protocol.” The description on the graphic for Test #4 reads, “Finished Product: Our oat flour is then shipped to our cereal plants in dedicated rail cars and trucks to be made into Cheerios. The finished product is tested for safety a final time.” Emphasis mine
- As reports of consumer illness were posted on Cheerios’ Facebook page your response as late as September 30th was, “Cheerios are gluten-free and every single box & serving are < 20 ppm.” Emphasis mine.
What are you doing now?
At Gluten Free Watchdog we are left shaking our heads. While we took issue with your testing methodology and protocol, at least you were testing finished product Cheerios (or so you said). Can you please tell this community how without ANY testing on finished product of the lots involved in the recall you had confidence that these 1.8 million boxes were gluten-free? And can you please provide the Gluten Free Watchdog community with an honest and detailed description of your current testing methodology and protocol for finished product Cheerios? Until you do, it will remain the position of Gluten Free Watchdog that individuals with gluten-related disorders should not eat gluten-free labeled Cheerios.
Tricia Thompson, MS, RD
Owner/Founder Gluten Free Watchdog, LLC
UPDATE October 9: Response from General Mills to the Gluten Free Watchdog Community
Tricia: In your letter, you ask two questions. Here’s our answer to each:
Can you please tell this community how without ANY testing on finished product of the lots involved in the recall you had confidence that these 1.8 million boxes were gluten-free?
We had tested the oat supply, and we had confirmed that it met the standard for gluten free. That has been subsequently reconfirmed. There was no issue with the oat supply.
We had also tested the oat flour prior to use, and had confirmed that our oat flour also met the FDA gluten free standard. That has also been subsequently reconfirmed.
As your questions have consistently been focused on the oat supply, hopefully you will appreciate knowing that the oat supply was not the issue. Both the oat supply and the oat flour were tested and confirmed as meeting the gluten free standard – and both our oats and our oat flour have been subsequently retested and reconfirmed as meeting the gluten free standard.
This issue came when our Lodi facility lost rail service, and our gluten-free oat flour was off-loaded from rail cars to trucks. All current evidence points to one truck – that had previously carried wheat flour for a different customer – inadvertently introducing an amount of wheat flour into the gluten free oat flour system at our Lodi facility.
That shouldn’t have happened – and we’ve acknowledged that.
We’ve also acknowledged that for a number of days finished product testing was not done. We are testing finished products – and that was and had been true before this issue was discovered. But finished product was not done on these run dates, and therefore the problem was not discovered at the time of production.
It has since been done, and that is how the specific dates included in the recall were determined.
And can you please provide the Gluten Free Watchdog community with an honest and detailed description of your current testing methodology and protocol for finished product Cheerios?
As we’ve discussed with you in the past, we test the oat supply – and confirm that our oats meet the gluten free standard. We then mill the oats – and test the resulting oat flour to confirm that our oat flour also meets the gluten free standard. We are also testing finished products – to confirm that our finished products also meet the gluten free standard. And we had been testing finished products prior to discovering this issue. But we’ve also acknowledged that for a number of days finished product testing was not done, and therefore the problem was not discovered at the time of production.
It has since been done, and that is how the dates included in the recall were determined.
You are welcome, Al. My apologies to all for my possible slip in professionalism in my last two posts on Cheerios. I am very angry. Usually I do not write while angry but this issue requires immediate attention. To everyone who is used to “just the facts ma’am” from me please bear with me–with all of us writing on this issue–as we work through exactly what has happened here. The stories from parents about their sick children are heart breaking and I do not know what to do with these emotions other than to write.
It’s OK. We (the entire GF community) feel your frustration and pain.
I think we’re all right there with you Tricia.
I am so glad, and I’m sure many others are too, that you have gone to bat for us against a ‘goliath’. I still don’t believe a word they said in their reply to you. They didn’t answer why there was no testing during those days and I have a very strong feeling GM knowingly stopped final product testing during those days because they knew the trucks hauling the oat flour were dirty and they were hoping they wouldn’t get caught. Thank You so much Tricia!
You are most welcome, Marge. I will be responding to General Mills’ response by Monday. As you state, they didn’t really answer the questions.
My eyes are filled with tears. Thank you for being angry enough to write to Cheerios. My little boy is still sick, still itchy, still so sad. The other night he collapsed in my arms sobbing because he “wants his allergies to go away and never come back.” How do you explain to a child that Cheerios simply doesn’t care? You don’t. You just pull him close, dry his eyes and cover his precious face, each and every hive and his swollen tummy with a million kisses–praying all the while that his wish will come true and his allergies and intolerances will go away forever. I am angry and heart broken. I will never trust this company again. They hurt my child and they just don’t care. I am grateful you care.
Humbly and with Great Thanks,
Kerry, your story and all the stories of children make me cry. We will keep working to make sure this never happens again. Hugs to you and your son.
It is April 10, 2017. I have been diagnosed with celiac disease about 10-12 years ago. I have been eating gluten free cherubs for about a moth now and I am covered with the rash associated with celiac disease Dermatitis Herpetiformis. This is a sure indication that I have eaten gluten. The only thing I added to my diet is gluten free cherios. They are by no means gluten free.
Michele, It is really important to contact your physician, the FDA, and General Mills. FDA wants to hear about illness reports. Please call FDA’s MEDWATCH, the Adverse Event Reporting System. You can do this online https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/index.cfm?action=reporting.home or via phone (800) 332-1088. Choose option #4 to speak with a representative.
I also have had several reactions from gluten allergy and the only change in my diet was cheerios my skin was crawling with itches and my stomach kept hurting and i put 2 and 2 together and removed the cheerios and now I am returning back to normal . and this isn’t from a recalled box either this is from the so called “passing” boxes, but that is because they are allowed 20 ppm I think it is to high or that all companies should put what PPM their products are testing at some gluteno items state what PPM I think that’s a great idea
Regardless of their response…why should be we believe them? What they’ve stated in the past apparently wasn’t true.
My sentiments as well.
Excellent letter. Yesterday, General Mills customer service continued to read me a script when I demanded to know how the contaminated boxes got through testing and how they were going to change testing procedures in the future. Finally, the customer service rep admitted that they “forgot” to check the boxes in the contaminated batches. They “forgot” an essential part of their new gluten-free procedures for 13 days???
What really concerns me is whether they were testing any boxes, anywhere, in any of the manufacturing plants. The General Mills blog contains so many stories of people getting ill from gluten-free Cheerios. I wonder if the problem was even more wide-spread than General Mills is admitting.
Thanks for keeping after them and for keeping everybody informed.
It is impossible to know what to believe because so much conflicting information has been provided by General Mills.
Right. They said they would be testing the finished product. Now they are saying they are testing the oat flour only. What if something else is problematic? This could have been prevented.
If you have the capacity I’d love to see your influence direct at getting the Celiac Foundation to comment on their process for vetting and monitoring products that they endorse. They have done so much and we really need to be able to trust them. In this case though it appears they took sponsorship dollars from Cheerios and let their logo go on the Cheerios box (large 2×1 logo, PR + endorsement implications) but didn’t continue to monitor the process or apply pressure when consumer complaints were ignored. Or maybe they did but they aren’t speaking out right now. I’ve asked them to comment multiple times to no avail. Their 10/7 press release about is phrased like they are reporting the news as an impartial third party but their logo is well placed on that box. Trust, brand, advocacy, etc etc. it would be good to hear from them and I bet you can get them to speak!
The Celiac Disease Foundation must issue a meaningful statement soon or risk losing credibility. I will contact Marilyn next week but encourage those of you who run CDF chapters and support groups to contact the national office.
Tricia, in reading your open letter to GM, regarding this which was GM response to Gluten Dude (& others) on August 4th, I quote a portion of their response:
“We have 34 days of Original Cheerios production across our 4 Cheerios plants. Each of those run days has at least 12 samples that we pull.
– The mean ppm of those samples is 7.
– 30 days had an average < 10ppm – 2 days = 11ppm; 2 days = 12ppm Furthermore, we have some data on some of the other flavors (that run less frequently due to size of business). – Multi-Grain Cheerios: 2 run days across 2 plants — Mean <5ppm – Apple Cinnamon Cheerios: 1 run day across 1 plant –Mean <5ppm"
So 34 days of runs across 4 plants takes us back to July 1st MOL. Yet the recalled Cheerios from the Lodi plant were not tested at all. Ummmm, why didn't GM catch that the Cheerios form the Lodi plant had not been tested? Someone fell asleep at the wheel yet again.
I would like to know how they explain the discrepancy.
Yes, completely contradictory information. This is why we need a detailed explanation from General Mills.
Thanks, Tricia. Thanks to my ever-present skepticism, especially when it comes to large corporations and $$, not to mention very sensitive celiac plumbing, I’ve not gone near the “GF” Cheerios and sincerely doubt I ever will. Thanks so much for continuing to advocate and inform all of us.
So glad you have stayed away from this cereal, Jeanne!
Tricia, what you do for the gluten-free community is priceless. Thank you times a million!
Right back at you, Erin. Hugs to you my friend. Someday we will meet in person!
As part of our ongoing certification process commitment to the community the Allergen Control Group and the Gluten-Free Certification Program (GFCP) is 100% willing to provide support and guidance to General MIlls, in an attempt to help them effectively recover from this unfortunate however clearly foreseeable recall and set the stage for a plan to set the stage for their product success.
I got a call from a man from General Mills in response to my e-mail to them yesterday. He was apologetic but started out with the party line. I told him it was outrageous that one plant hadn’t followed correct testing procedures for 13 days. I asked why nobody had noticed that there were no test results for those 13 days. He had no answer. I suggested that they needed some kind of gluten-free oversight group.
Then, I suggested that they do investigations on the other plants to see if they actually have been doing testing. He said he would bring that up to management.
I also said that it was insane that I knew in early August that there was some kind of a problem with Honey Nut Cheerios and that General Mills hadn’t figured it out until October. He had no answer. That’s when I said that I suspected that the contamination problem may be more wide-spread than just one plant with all of the problems that I had seen reported online.
I also said that many people on the General Mills blog had complained that they had enormous medical expenses from severe reactions and that General Mills customer service was blowing them off. He said that wasn’t the acceptable corporate response.
Finally, I asked that he call me back when General Mills has their testing processes fixed. He said that he would let me know how they fix their processes.
He seemed nice, but who knows if anything will get fixed.
Thanks for sharing information about your call, Katy.
Tricia, I echo others when I say thank you for taking this on and representing our entire community. Looking forward to updates as you are able to gather more information.
You are most welcome, Jessica.
I applaud your efforts. How comfortable can we be that other GF products by General Mills are GF? Such as Chex cereals and oatmeal a, etc. So incredibly disappointing.
I’d love to hear the answer to this too. Can we trust Betty Crocker GF mixes and Chex? Thought the train to truck issue may be explained away as a one time, huge, pain inducing human mistake, the testing inconsistencies, and inaccuracies and maybe untruths in released statements about testing and PPMs are very alarming.
Before this mess with Cheerios I was personally comfortable with other General Mills’ products. I eat Larabars and on those very rare occasions when gluten-free cupcakes are needed I use the the gluten-free Betty Crocker devil’s food cake mix. But my trust in General Mills is gone. I will say that every product other than Cheerios that we’ve tested to date through GFWD has tested below 5 ppm gluten.
Thank you for sharing! I got really sick off a box of honey nut gluten free Cheerios just a couple weeks ago… I’m still battling the flare and my husband is having open heart surgery next week! I hope I am able to be there and take care of him.. General Mills really screwed me, and definitely lost my trust!
Jolene, Did you contact FDA’s MedWatch? If not, please do. My best to you and your husband.
Not yet.. I wasn’t sure who to contact.. I’ll call them tomorrow.. Thanks!
excessive pride or self-confidence.
synonyms: arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, hauteur, pride, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority; More
(in Greek tragedy) excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis.
in a sentence: While it’s well established that only gluten-free oats are safe for celiacs, GM felt this rule did not apply to their own oats, despite the rational concerns of the celiac community.
Tricia, please continue in your tireless effort for honesty from General Mills. ALL of us Celiacs work so
hard just to find something we can eat. We have to worry so much all the time. Is it asking so much for a billion
dollar company for honesty?
I will Jay. But General Mills continues to refuse to listen. What they don’t realize is that I provided them with many hours of free consulting advice and they should have listened.
I appreciate your “doggedness” towards this issue. The red flag went up for me upon reading their mechanical removal of gluten filled grains explanation. No. Not convinced that you could pull that off. Then, when more and more comments came in from people becoming sick it was obvious they had not accomplished what they wished they could do. Now, to see that they are trying to cover their butts is extremely maddening. I’d rather them just say, “We’ve made a mess out of this, not intentionally, but out of shear inability to get ALL things sorted out before we launched.” Doesn’t make the sickness that was caused go away, but it gives my brain a little more leeway for forgiveness and the thought, “Okay, you made a mistake, don’t make it again.”, would have been on my mind.
The distress they are causing to the Celiac community is horrendous. They, like so many other manufacturers seem to be catering their items for the fad dieters, but the Celiac must trust that it is REALLY gluten free. Problem is, they forget that we have to put our life on the line to eat those so called gluten free products.
Thanks for commenting, Mary. I hope General Mills reads this. I just sent them an email encouraging them to comment on this blog post and respond to the community.
Thank you for the letter Tricia! I agree that there needs to be a formal explanation as to why boxes were not tested at that plant as they were intended to be. I am sorry so many people got sick trying the new GF Cheerios. I have Celiac as well and have had it since I was a kid but did not get diagnosed until 2001. I have a very over reactive immune system due to other autoimmune diseases that I have am very sensitive to small amounts of gluten in my foods. I cannot have the Cheerios due to an oat allergy and thus remain unscathed by Cheerios. That being said, I am a little surprised at just how nasty and irrational people have been towards General Mills. Just because they are a large company does not mean they are villainous. This obviously is not a situation that General Mills wanted and they certainly would not have purposely let all of those boxes of Cheerios leave the factory knowing they were contaminated. It was a mistake-albeit a big one-but a mistake just the same. Despite having protocols in place, companies make mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. Look at the Bob’s Red Mill Sorghum recall in 2013, Ortega taco flats, the massive spice recall earlier this year, the Listeria recalls this year for so many companies. That is just to name a few. There have been so many undeclared gluten and other allergens and contaminates in out food supplies over the past 15 plus years. Unfortunately the risk comes with buying food products. Companies keep getting better to minimize this risk; however risk will remain. It is up to the consumer to decide if they want to take on that risk every time they go to the store. I personally buy a minimal amount of prepared products since I too have gotten sick from even certified GF food products in the past. I am personally happy that General Mills has been a mass market pioneer in the gluten free world. They brought to market many wonderful products that made it more affordable to comply to a GF diet for lower income and regular consumers. They have not had problems in the past with their GF products-this is the first one that I am aware of. I will continue to buy Rice Chex on occasion and a cake mix once in a blue moon. This has not altered my view of the company as a whole. I just do not see the need to crucify GM every opportunity one gets for this slip up and I am unfortunately seeing this A LOT on the web. It is very disappointing.
Thanks so much for your comments, Cindy. For me there are a lot of issues right now with General Mills–too many to write. But at the moment please know that I spent a day and a half meeting with the folks at General Mills (including a respected dietitian colleague). We have corresponded many times via phone and email. I have provided constructive feedback on their testing methodology and protocols but they did not take this criticism seriously. Putting that aside, the issue right now is that the information provided to me and the gluten-free community about the testing they were doing on final product Cheerios (albeit flawed in my opinion) was not accurate. As a result of not testing final product Cheerios in the Lodi plant people got sick. One story in particular about a child breaks my heart. It is difficult to read. In my opinion, none of this would have happened if General Mills had done what they said they were doing in terms of testing and if they had listened. There is no excuse for a manufacturer being so overly sure of themselves that they do not take the concerns of consumers and consumer advocates seriously.
The problem with General Mills is that they should have known about and announced the problems much sooner – just from looking at a few Web pages I was suspicious of Honey Nut Cheerios in August.
General Mills also should have large, strong quality control departments who are overseeing their manufacturing. By them not having anybody overseeing whether testing was even taking place for 13 days, it is probably a symptom of much larger potential problems. What if some plant that made cake mixes or rice chex decided to stop being careful and stop testing? Does General Mills even have a mechanism in place to catch those problems or would thousands more people get sick?
Probably they didn’t test the boxes at Lodi because they were in a rush because of the train – truck problems. Probably some lower-level supervisor decided it was faster just to get the stuff out the door and forget the new-testing, which really didn’t seem necessary because previous testing had taken place on the flour, because they needed to stay on schedule. There was no quality control department overseeing the plant to override the probable get it out the door on schedule decision.
That’s why we can’t let General Mills just answer just one 13 day problem – it could very well be an organization-wide problem of poor quality control oversight. 13 days of nobody noticing that no testing was going on is extremely serious. One day is a mistake – 13 days is an organization-wide failure.
Even if General Mills had not “forgotten” to do their testing for a few days, I would still be wary about eating their “gluten-free” product. Tricia, as you have pointed out, General Mills is not testing any individual boxes. They first mix and grind product from different boxes, then draw samples from the mixture. From the consumer’s point of view, this makes no sense. We eat Cheerios from a box, so why not sample directly from boxes, measuring the mean and variability of gluten content based on these boxes?
One other point: Consumers eat repeatedly from same box. Any box that “randomly” has a lot of gluten will affect us again and again over a short time period. This is far more serious than a single exposure. And Cheerios has historically been marketed to children, encouraging them to start by eating as a snack while still in the high chair. This gives me pause . . . .
Completely agree. It not only gives me pause it has now brought me to a full stop.
Thank you for watching out for us. I’m still bothered by the whole thing. My son and I have celiac, we were both affected from eating Cheerios.
My distrust lies with the FDA. Food manufacturers are doing exactly what they are allowed to do under the current law/rules/regulations and lack of consequences for violations of such. The FDA needs to make changes. In theory, if the FDA had a strict set of rules (standard operating procedures) in place for manufacturing and testing gluten-free food, there would be no guessing. Of course, those rules must come with penalties if violated.
Lisa, I agree with you that FDA should require manufacturers to test food for gluten and that it would be helpful if FDA provided guidance to manufacturers regarding testing. However, because there are so many types of food matrices it would be very difficult for FDA to provide a one size fits all solution. IMO having spent hours with General Mills (in person, on the phone, via email) they are at fault. They discounted early reports of illness among many other things. For this there is no excuse.
You are absolutely right. Thank you for what you do.
Their response is meaningless, it doesn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know from their PR attempts to pat us on the head and tell us to trust them since this little OOPS began.
I don’t know that they could do anything at this point to make me trust them, although admittedly I didn’t try their product because of the testing issues already present. I did however purchase it for family members figuring that being gluten lite it was safe enough for family members to eat.
I think if they had come out and said, you know what we quit testing final product because it’s expensive and we felt secure in our facility and process, obviously we were wrong and now realize we must test final product so this doesn’t happen again. I might think okay maybe you’ve learned something lets see what happens. However I have seen nothing on any format since this happened that mentions testing at other locations and my gut says this isn’t just a matter of someone forgot for a few days only in this one location. One location where they state there was a change in the process which should have made them more vigilant, not less.
Thank you for all the work you do for the community Tricia. As for GM, I’m not drinking the Kool-Aid
Thanks for commenting Kathie. One “new” statement from General Mills is that “All current evidence points to one truck.” I study the words used by General Mills very carefully. On social media, statements about what happened changed slightly from the definitive statement, “Our Lodi facility lost rail service & our oat flour off-loaded into trucks where the wheat flour was inadvertently introduced” to “We BELIEVE this resulted in wheat flour being inadvertently introduced into the GF oat flour system at our Lodi facility.” Emphasis mine.
It seems to me that this incident points out a flaw in their basic GF testing approach: they’re testing the flour at the mill before it’s shipped to the plant(s) where they make the Cheerios. Clearly each shipment of flour, be it a boxcar load or a truckload, should be thoroughly mixed after it’s unloaded and back under GM control and then tested before it’s used. Of course the spot checks of the completed cereal should catch problems if they’re done. But as long as the facility is dedicated GF at least on the Cheerios line(s), things should be fine if the incoming ingredients are GF.
But it’s essential to thoroughly mix each incoming shipment, so that any gluten from the possible shovelful of wheat flour in the truck or boxcar will get included in the test. This mixing and testing could be done in segments, depending on the size of the shipment and the available mixing facilities. As their mishap has demonstrated, the shipment link is a risk area, and so the testing should be done after shipment. Whether testing is done before shipment or not is not important, unless they want to try to catch problems at the mill a little earlier.
Exactly Dick, exactly!
General Mills, I do believe you ought to read the following link:
The link tells how Bob’s Red Mill handles things and what their protocols are. You couldn’t have a better template than Bob’s Red Mill.
It would be helpful if the company would post on their website the testing results of individual boxes, the production date, testing date, and the expiration date.
You are such an amazing person for leading the charge here.
Have you tried reaching out to the gentleman, who works at GM in Cherrios, who came up with the GF version? I read an article that he came up with this because his granddaughter has celiac. Perhaps an attempt to contact him directly would be helpful. The article I read made it seem that the GF Cheerios was a personal mission for him. He certainly doesn’t want his family member getting sick. Maybe your suggestions won’t fall on deaf ears with him.
Hi Amy. Thanks for your kind comment. I actually met Phil and he is a super nice man (as is the entire Cheerios team that I met). His heart is truly in the right place. His daughter-in-law has a gluten-related disorder. He is likely following all of this. At this point, all responses are likely in the hands of corporate and most likely approved by Legal before being sent out to the community.
My comments surrounding the Cheerios debacle are simple.
1. Dr. Alessio Fassano, internationally renowned celiac expert and head of the US Center for Celiac Research, in his book titled “Gluten Freedom” at Chapter 7 clearly sets forth the recommendation that only oats labeled gluten free be consumed due to the risks of cross contamination and that for oats to be considered gluten free from the field they must be grown in a field free of wheat, barley, or rye for five years. [purity protocol]
2. The USA FDA regulation does not require end product testing to utilize the approved “Gluten Free” label nor does it require a purity protocol for oats to be labeled gluten free.
3. General Mills campaigned the gluten free community to enlist our trust that the efforts they had placed extensive research into developing were sufficient to meet the FDA’s standard of what constitutes gluten free.
4. General Mills failed the celiac community as evidenced by numerous consumer reports and product failure as tested by the FDA at 43ppm on a sample box due to a product recall.
5. General Mills stated they would provide end product testing to ensure the safety of their product. By their own admission, failure to do so led to the cross contamination in this case. Nowhere in any response has GM detailed a policy change to ensure this does not happen again. (see above response to letter)
5. General Mills currently does not meet the Canadian standard for oats labeled gluten free as being produced under a purity protocol. https://www.gluten.org/branchnews/canada-specifically-labeling-gluten-free-oats/
6. General Mills currently does not meet the GFCO certification standard for “quality assessment and control measures throughout production…at 10ppm” http://www.gfco.org/about-us/who-we-are/
So the question for me begs:
What makes a bowl of freaking cereal worth the above health risks? Answer: NOTHING.
When I read your original posts about gluten free Cheerios and your visit to the company, I decided “gluten free” Cheerios were not for me. When I recently saw on the news that there was a recall, my first thought was…well of course they were recalled – Tricia pointed out the flaws in their testing methods!! They are not using GF oats (but, recent GM emails imply they “are”??), what did they expect? Trucks contaminated in Lodi? It makes one wonder what other trucks are contaminated. It is ridiculous and preventable. And children getting sick as a result makes it even worse. It sounds like they are playing the liability game and this is the tip of the iceberg.
I am recommending to my colleagues, especially one who runs a WIC program, to advise clients/patients (who have celiac disease) against eating any General Mills cereals labeled gluten free. Thanks again, Tricia, for your perseverance in this, despite the company’s reluctance to follow your expert advice. Your frustration and anger is completely understandable. (maybe it’s time to call “60 Minutes”)
Thank you once again in your efforts, Tricia. It is completely maddening that we keep hearing corporate rhetoric from General Mills as they once again evade answering questions. We need answers as illness reports keep piling up and questions keep coming up. The way I see it, the wheat flour did contaminate the oat supply after it was milled into flour (if we are to believe what GM says), therefore you are correct in being concerned about the oat supply. Where in the process was the oat flour tested? Only after it was milled and not when it arrived after transportation? Did they say before in the video that they test several times in the production process or am I remembering incorrectly? What did they do to clean the plant after they discovered the wheat flour issue? How do they FORGET to do 13 days worth of testing of the final product? If they FORGOT that many days of testing, are they really doing the testing they keep saying they’re doing across the board? Why are the reports of illness that we’re seeing NOT coming from the Lodi plant area, but on the other side of the country?
I don’t really expect you to answer those questions, they’re just the ones I have. I think those of us concerned for our whole community is increasingly frustrated with the lack of accountability and responsibility on their part. I really can’t thank you enough for your efforts in keeping us safe and trying to get answers.
Hi Debi, I will be responding to General Mills’ response by Monday and asking and addressing many of these issues. Please continue to encourage folks to contact MedWatch. If someone could be tasked with asking for and keeping track of the lot numbers of boxes making people ill that would be very helpful. Hugs to you for all of your hard work.
Thank you for staying on top of this issue.
Frankly, I was astonished that GM was not testing all final product released during these early days of GF Cheerios. I thought there would be extra vigilance on their part, at least in the beginning. Wow!
I did not learn anything new in the most recent post by General Mills – they merely repeated themselves. Accordingly, they will continue to rely on the same plan of action that “caught” the problem this time – AFTER the product was released and sold, AFTER people got sick, AFTER hearing people got sick – then GM will test the product in question and recall it.
Even after this recall, they do not indicate they plan to test all finished product before it is released to market.
Oh my! I just realized the General Mills makes CHEX cereal. I’m back to plain old GF oatmeal.
Well at least they are honest in saying they are testing the finish products. just not necessarily before they hit the shelf so if there’s a problem they will know after they make people sick and then they will say oops and claim transparency.
What a load of crap. I couldn’t be happier I never trusted General Mills and didn’t try these.
Thank you for being so on top of this and giving the community voice.
You have taken on so much that the rest of us just don’t have time to take on – thank you! For my part, I got sick from a box not produced at the Lodi facility, but produced during the recall period (July 16th). It took me quite a while to figure out what had made me sick since I trusted General Mills’ claims. I have never been sick from Betty Crocker, Chex, etc. so it didn’t even occur to me that it was the Cheerios at first…. Until my third (large) bowl. So frustrating!
Thanks for all your doing!
Thank you ! Thank you! Thank you !
thank you for caring enough to make them answer…. I just found your website and I sit here crying tears of joy that someone cares for us enough to call these people out….
I, like many others, was so happy that a childhood favorite was now gluten free and I could eat it after being diagnosed with a wheat allergy… When I started having issues and flare ups, my hubby and I could not figure out why…everything I was eating was “safe”
and then I saw the recall…. and I knew….I no longer had the boxes so I do not know for sure that my current state of not being able to breathe and joint pain to the point of not being able to walk was really from GM….but I can say that I will never buy anything from them again for not taking this seriously….
So thank you from the bottom of my heart — I will be coming a subscriber on my next paycheck as I want to support you for all you do for us….
Heather, I am so very sorry to hear that you have been sick. Although you do not have the box of Cheerios, you may want to contact FDA’s MedWatch (800) 332-1088. Choose option #4 to speak to a representative. Please keep us posted on how you are feeling.
Hi Tricia,Iam newly learning about gluten free living after having a family member being diagnozed with celiac. I feel that “gluten free” labelling is so deceptive and Manufacturer’s do not understand that for celiac patient’s being gluten free is a medical necessity and not a diet fad. I have been buying the ” naturally gluten free ” red lentils from Wal-Mart and have found wheat kernels bag after bag. As others we got so excited to find gluten free Cheerios but are paying the price for consuming it too. Very confused on the meaning of naturally gluten free and what is the FDA’s requirement to label something naturally glutin free. feeling very confused and helpless.Please help and educate
I am afraid that if the FDA does not prevent Cheerios from using the gluten free claim until it can be substantiated, and take substantial punative action against General Mills, that the use of the Gluten Free claim on other products may become a meaningless marketing ploy.
People will not trust the FDA to protect them, people around the world will not have faith in US claims of gluten free products. This could hurt the customers, as well as employees and ethical companies and US economy.
I have had celiac disease for 7 years that went active as a result of surgery to remove a tumor from my digestive tract. I have a hereditary condition that puts me at high risk for cancer of the digestive tract and have had 2 surgeries and half my digestive tract removed as a result (total colon removal, gull bladder, bile duct, and parts of pancreases, stomach, and small intestine). Having celiac disease in addition to this, maintaining a strict gluten free diet is a life and death matter for me – if I don’t what is left of my digestive tract will shut down and I will starve to death no matter how much food I eat. When my celiac disease became active but undiagnosed following my surgery I went from 180 lbs. to 98 lbs. and had to be put on an IV feeding system until my doctors figured out what was wrong and why I was constantly sick.
I recently suffered a gluten attack that made me very sick and the source of it I have traced to the Frosted Cheerios I was eating for breakfast as the only possibility. After I have stopped eating them I am feeling better and it is the only thing in my regular diet that I have changed, so it has to be the source of gluten I was recently exposed to. General Mills Gluten Free procedures are obviously not strict enough for people with celiac disease and I will avoid eating their products in the future.
Shawn, I am sorry to hear this. Please report what happened to FDA’s MedWatch. You can do this online https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/index.cfm?action=reporting.home or via phone (800) 332-1088. Choose option #4 to speak to a representative. It is very important that FDA continues to hear from those who believe “gluten-free” Cheerios made them sick.
I already reported to medwatch in october, more the merrier,
:-). Substantiate proof
Im so sick of the lies! I ATE them everyday from the end of aug til the recall in oct. Then my stomach bled til dec. Whose paying my medical bills for er and doctors, lost work, not my insurance company…..
I’m reading these emails in 2017. I bought some gluten-free Cheerios (yellow box) and have been mixing them 1/2 and 1/2 with gluten-free Rice Chex. My knees have become still and sore in the past weeks. I thought it was due to overly aggressive gardening at first. (I’ve been gluten-free for many years.) Now, I’m thinking it’s the Cheerios. So, I plan to wait a few weeks to see if my knees get better. (Knee pain was always my first symptom, along with stomach upset and itchiness of a wheat/gluten exposure many years ago.)
Thanks so much for all you do. Very helpful work for those of us that need to steer clear of gluten.
As a marketing consultant, my recommendation to General Mills would be to simply stop offering GF products. I can’t imagine that the additional profit is worth the headache.
I appreciate reading all the responses as I am a silent Celiac whose number can go off the chart as I never know if I’ve been “glutenized”. I’ve only been violently ill twice, which is wonderful, but my body cannot absorb calcium or Vit D, causing me to be high risk osteoporosis. I’ve had way too many falls and broken bones since 5 years of age.
I know I’m really late to the table here, but I wanted to thank you for advocating for the celiac community. I was diagnosed so long ago with celiac that it took me some time to actually eat Cheerios. I ate some last year, even though I didn’t see the “certified GF” label. It took a couple days to recover and I’ve told the rest of my family and several friends with celiac to stay away from Cheerios. General Mills appears to be using a marketing ploy to sell more cereal. Another example of “Big Food” spreading misinformation, I guess.
What is Cheerios email adress
Here is the link to their contact page https://contactus.generalmills.com/?page=https://www.cheerios.com&language=en
Tricia, I had the SAME battle with General Mills and even had a running argument with FDA regarding Gluten Free Cheerios. I spoke to an attorney about a class action lawsuit because they ARE NOT GLUTEN FREE!!! No where on the box does it say “gluten free oats”, however, they claim oats are naturally gluten free. They gave me the same line of crap that a plant accidently messed up a batch of Cheerios and that the batch I had was safe. B.S.!!!! My daughter has celiac and is super sensitive and missed FIVE DAYS of school!! I’m with you 100%!! People with celiac that are not super sensitive are being mislead and this error is extremely harmful!!