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General Mills Draws Fire for Gluten-free Manufacturing Choices

Celiac.com 09/07/2015 - Cereal maker General Mills is facing criticism from some people with celiac disease who say its gluten-free manufacturing practices are unsafe, unreliable, and leave them at risk for adverse gluten reactions.

Image: CC--theimpulsivebuyA number of celiac disease patients and others with gluten sensitivities are questioning the company's practice of removing wheat, rye and barley from standard oats, rather than sourcing actual gluten-free oats. General Mills' special method for sorting grains allegedly removes any wheat, barley and rye from the whole oats, before they are made into oat flour.

A group called "Gluten Free Watchdog" has engaged General Mills regarding cross-contamination possibilities during the grain sorting and manufacturing process. The process used by General Mills to sort its oats for the gluten-free Original, Multi-Grain, Apple Cinnamon, Honey Nut and Frosted Cheerios is described in an official blog post.

Gluten Free Watchdog's concerns include the reliability of testing analysis. General Mills currently uses a sampling method to test the cereal and check that gluten is 20 parts per million (ppm) or less, but Gluten Free Watchdog claims this method can result in uneven results, and that some batches of cereal may actually contain more than the allowed 20 ppm of gluten, although they haven't offered any solid examples that support their theory.

To its credit, General Mills seems to be honestly engaged in the discussion, and has signaled an openness to sourcing pure gluten-free oats, which would address the concerns of groups like Gluten Free Watchdog.

What do you think? Should General Mills be using gluten-free oats for their gluten-free products? Is it okay if they use regular oats and special sorting equipment to ensure the final oats are under 20 ppm, as required by law? Share your thoughts below.

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56 Responses:

 
Ruth
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
07 Sep 2015 1:54:31 PM PST
All I know is that I have celiac, and am quite sensitive to cross contamination. I ate some of these Cheerios this morning and loved them...no reaction...no problem. I was thrilled.

 
Carrie
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said this on
26 Sep 2015 3:49:49 PM PST
Gluten Free Watchdog's (a well-respecting testing organization) concerns are GM's testing protocol may allow some boxes that are over 20 ppm to slip through because others are well below 20 ppm and they are tested together. GFW admits that there may be very few boxes that are over 20 ppm, but even one is too many if it makes someone sick. You may have been lucky to purchase boxes that are indeed below 20 ppm, but that doesn't mean that someone else may purchase some that will make them ill. https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/gluten-free-cheerios-updated-position-statement/

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
28 Sep 2015 3:29:12 PM PST
They propose a theory that some could be contaminated--ok, please show us some. Again, General Mills spent millions developing the technology to stay below 20 ppm...it is not up to them to prove that every single box they make tests below this--they have put a gluten-free guarantee on every box. It is now up to someone to find boxes that are not gluten-free--it is up to Gluten-Free Watchdog to show us a box if that is their claim. Obviously no company tests every box of their products--why should General Mills have to?

 
Chocominties
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said this on
07 Sep 2015 2:14:12 PM PST
Let me tell you, I was SO EXCITED when they first came out that I went and bought yellow box Cheerios and Honey Nut. I started with the yellow box (my favorite), but started to notice some GI upset setting in several hours after eating the cereal. I gave the benefit of the doubt that "maybe it was something else" that made me feel sick, and stopped eating the cereal so that I wouldn't be sick before a weekend trip that included a long drive.

Monday I came back and ate a big bowl of Cheerios, and one week later I'm still feeling the effects. I don't think there's tons of gluten in there, but there's enough to disturb my GI tract for a long time without making it bleed (my usual "bad" reaction).

To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. I wish they would use certified oats, or test smaller batches or SOMETHING.

 
Peggy
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said this on
31 Oct 2015 8:54:06 AM PST
I too ran out and bought a box of honey nut cheerios, had a reaction to it but it was slight, gave it another try and had a worse reaction....so I stopped eating them, then the recall came and i thought maybe I had eaten one of those boxes, so just recently I tried again, this time a very, very bad reaction...I am still feeling the effects two days later....so sorry General Mills but I cannot eat your delicious cereals...makes me very sad, because cereal is one of my favorite things to eat, and we have so few choices.

 
Sue
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said this on
07 Sep 2015 4:32:14 PM PST
I'm glad you posted this article. I was thinking of trying the new gluten free Cheerios but after hearing that they separate the wheat and barley from the oats to make their product I definitely will not. This does not meet my definition of gluten free for celiacs. I see a large possibility for error. They need oats that are gluten free from the field to the product.

 
Jeremy
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said this on
07 Sep 2015 5:30:31 PM PST
I think that General Mills needs to be careful. Celiacs like myself would love to dig into a bowl of Cheerios, as long as it was a for sure a Gluten Free product. Step it up GM and get GF oats and make everyone happy!

 
Admin
( Author)
said this on
08 Sep 2015 11:09:42 AM PST
As far as Celiac.com knows, their gluten-free Cheerios have never tested above 20ppm, and are gluten-free. If anyone can point us to objective tests showing higher levels, please let us know.

 
Carrie
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said this on
26 Sep 2015 3:52:49 PM PST
This is from Gluten-Free Watchdog's website: "During my visit to General Mills in mid July, results from randomly pulled data sheets for yellow box Cheerios from the gluten-free validation period were shared (these Cheerios did not go into boxes labeled gluten-free). The vast majority of extractions from these data sheets were under 20 ppm (many were below the lower limit of quantification of 10 ppm); some extractions were above 20 ppm (one extraction from one of the lots was above 90 ppm)." https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/gluten-free-cheerios-updated-position-statement/

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
28 Sep 2015 3:33:59 PM PST
These were NOT from the "gluten-free" labelled Cheerios so this statement is very misleading. Here are Gluten-Free Watchdog's own tests of gluten-free Cheerios, all are under 10 ppm: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/product/gluten-free-cheerios-yellow-boxoriginal/395

 
Barbara
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said this on
07 Sep 2015 10:08:46 PM PST
I have celiac disease and became very sick after eating this cereal. I will never buy or eat it again.

 
Tracey
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said this on
08 Sep 2015 6:01:00 PM PST
My daughter ate the Honey Nut Cheerios, and she developed a rash (which she gets from eating gluten) all over her legs. I don't think it's actually gluten free.

 
Sandy Skrovan
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said this on
09 Sep 2015 8:16:43 AM PST
I was so excited to hear about General Mills making Cheerios gluten free. My daughter ran out and bought two boxes of original and one Honey Nuts. I questioned GM's process when I reviewed its website and back of box. So rather than dive right in, I tried about 6-7 Cheerios (like a toddler!) in the evening and experienced GI issues all night long (I am a celiac). Thankfully my taste test was rather limited so I was able to "sleep off" most of the symptoms. Needless to say, Cheerios got shelved in my household. Fellow celiacs, please be warned!

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
09 Sep 2015 2:15:14 PM PST
This type of "gut test" isn't a valid way to detect gluten. It is widely known that some celiacs have an oat intolerance, which is separate to their reaction to gluten. Please let Celiac.com know if you test them and the results are over 20 ppm--all else is just spreading rumors.

 
Pat
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said this on
09 Sep 2015 7:55:33 PM PST
Was so excited about the prospects of eating those childhood cereals once again. But hearing the news, and reading the previous reviews who have had reactions, I will wait until their process is sorted out. They are large enough they could afford to purchae the GF oats for their product.

 
Rita
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said this on
10 Sep 2015 1:53:59 AM PST
I am extremely sensitive. I ate the Honey nut cheerios and I didn't have any reaction. I love the cereal but yes I think they should be very cautious because the make gluten cereal also and I don't want any cross contamination in my cereal.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
10 Sep 2015 10:49:31 AM PST
By nature very large, publicly traded companies must be far more cautious than small companies. This is due to greater liability concerns that come from having deeper pockets. General Mills is not a risk taking company by any stretch.

 
endrun
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingemptyratingemptyratingempty Unrated
said this on
15 Sep 2015 6:46:26 PM PST
Well, just how easy would it be for a member of the public to get actual data on what its manufacturing practices result in in terms of gluten content in products labelled gluten free? I daresay not only not easy--nor nigh impossible--but completely impossible. Aye, tharr's the RUB...

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
17 Sep 2015 1:07:58 PM PST
I'm not sure what you mean exactly here, but it isn't hard to test a box that gave you a reaction. So far I've not heard of anybody doing this.

 
Chris
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 4:50:19 AM PST
When I went to buy the new cereal my store still had the "old" still in stock. This could have happened to those with a reaction?

 
Aella
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 11:54:50 AM PST
I was wondering about that! I still haven't seen the GF products in Los Angeles yet....I can't wait to try them. I have never had an issue with oats, so I'm hoping this can be my new go-to cereal. I really, really hope people aren't assuming that the product is GF without buying specifically the boxes that are labeled GF! But hey, we all know the Darwin Effect exists....

 
Terri
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 6:56:00 AM PST
Good Point

 
GlutenFreeG
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 6:09:07 AM PST
We all know that celiacs are different and take on different risks. Many celiacs cheat eating gluten and if you're a celiac trusting this product regularly, then eat it and report back after multiple occasions after getting re-tested by your doctor. The facts are simple, General Mills does not conduct a proper celiac safe consistent protocol. They've been somewhat transparent to show us this. So how can a celiac honestly believe this, besides having an emotional attachment to the brand and food from their childhoods? Not to mention General Mill supports GMO and Monsanto another issue that is related indirectly to a trust gluten free lifestyle... why would you eat gluten free low quality food?

 
Nancy
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 6:15:29 AM PST
As long as General Mills is being honest (and I think they are) about their process, it is up to each celiac to decide for themselves if he or she should try GF cherrios. My understanding is that there aren't enough GF oats available and if there were I am sure that the cost would go up. I eat this Cherrios all the time and don't seem to have a problem.

 
dappy
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 7:07:32 AM PST
They have been providing us with gluten free cereal for quite awhile. I eat all the Chex and I even make my own breading from the Rice Chex. Here's a company trying to do something that helps celiacs by offering choices and reasonable pricing. Let's all get on them about how they are doing it - then they can back off because they really don't need to provide GF, do they ??

 
SueB
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 7:49:22 AM PST
Our family (with both "celiacs" and non-celiac gluten-sensitive types) tends to be super-sensitive to gluten, but we'been thrilled to have Cheerios back in our diet. We've eaten each type and had no problems. Very excited to have a few more choices in the morning, and we really appreciate all GM's efforts to do this roll out safely!

 
Bon
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 8:24:17 AM PST
You couldn't pay me to eat it. There are plenty of really good Organic Gluten Free cereals out there that you can trust. I wouldn't purchase from any company that also wants to hide GMO's from you too.

 
Fern Walter
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 3:51:16 PM PST
Don't worry no one will pay you to eat the cereal. And I have not found one Organic GF cereals that I like even remotely. Yuck. I have tried too many to count. Glutino's is the worst for cereal. Then it goes downhill from there but glad someone likes them.

General Mills is a brand I trust. I eat the Chex cereals all the time. I think they will get with the program and change they way they do the oats as well has hiding the GMO's if that is ur issue. Gook Luck.

 
Anne
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 12:41:30 PM PST
I was so excited to hear that I would be able to eat honey nut and apple cinnamon cheerios again - they were my favorite for a long time. But after hearing more about their "removal process" I'm going to hold out until they develop a more reliable way to make Cheerios gluten free. All it takes is one missed grain to make someone sick. C'mon GM, stop dragging your feet and get some certified GF oats. This "removal" process sounds like the beers who claim to be gluten free by fermentation just so they can jump on the band wagon and cash in on the fad dieters. If you are serious, get certified. Then I will trust you.

Sincerely,

A lifelong Celiac

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
15 Sep 2015 2:17:54 PM PST
Why couldn't one missed grain or the equivalent, end up in so called "gluten-free oats"? I haven't heard a good explanation yet.

 
Lisa
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 12:44:24 PM PST
I have Celiac disease, and I was SO EXCITED, I hadn't had Cheerios in over 10 years. I ate the frosted Cheerios... A BIG bowl of course! With in 15 minutes I was extremely sick! My stomach was swollen, I looked like I was 8 months pregnant and had severe pain cramping for days. Weeks later, I'm still dealing with muscle and nerve pain. If you have celiac disease, please use extreme caution if you decide to eat Cheerios! I hope General Mills will reconsider where they get their oats, and how they process them!! If not, please take gluten free off the label! Some boxes may be in the safe range, but apparently not every box is safe!

 
Rose
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 3:37:07 PM PST
It's a disgrace, I got sick from one bowl of Cheerios plain! You think a huge company like GM would use gluten free oats and celiac standards , I think gluten will vary box to box, my heart breaks for the young kids that might get sick! They just want to be healthy kids and enjoy them without worries!!

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
15 Sep 2015 2:15:14 PM PST
Did you have them tested? Are you oat intolerant?

 
Fern Walter
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 3:44:12 PM PST
I am a celiac and get sick for a month when glutened. I tried the GF regular Cheerios before I read this article and and glad to say that I am still going strong. The box is half empty and on my next shopping trip plan to buy more. I am able to eat oats with out any problems, fortunately, cause I also have to eat GF matzoh on Passover. But knowing that the oats may be contaminated does concern me. I hope they do go with pure oats cause I would hate to loose a month of my life eating my favorite cereal.

 
Brenda Asbury
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 5:30:02 PM PST
I was so excited to try the gluten free Honey Nut Cheerios. I got so sick, extreme pain. I won't be trying any of the others.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
15 Sep 2015 2:13:16 PM PST
Did you save the box so that it could be tested for gluten-content? Are you one of the small number of celiacs who also have oat intolerance...which is considered separate from celiac disease?

 
Mark
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 6:47:16 PM PST
Good information which needs to be further explored. Thanks.

 
MsKat
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 7:15:36 PM PST
I am going to try the new Cheerios, because my reactions aren't too violent, thank goodness. But when I saw their commercials explaining how they arrived at the new product, I did think something was a little 'off' about how they went about removing the offending gluten containing items from their cereals. I had a strong feeling there was going to be some sort of response to it, especially from those members of the gluten free community who have particularly violent reactions to even microscopic amounts of gluten.

 
Dave P
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said this on
14 Sep 2015 9:39:23 PM PST
I enjoyed two bowls of the Honey Nut Cheerios on two occasions for the first time in three years after being diagnosed as celiac. No problems but I ate them in moderation. I checked three local stores and each had the GF and traditional products interspersed and I almost picked up the wrong box. For what it is worth, I had my annual antibody test less than 72 hours after my second bowl and my levels were non-detected when they were previously through the roof before diagnosis. I commend them for going the extra steps.

 
Terri
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 6:53:53 AM PST
I ate the whole box and had no ill effects and I am very sensitive. I also know that some celiacs also CAN NOT tolerate oats so maybe many of you are in that category.

 
Barbara
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 8:38:26 AM PST
Love the new GF Cheerios. I have celiac and am very careful of cross contamination because of issues it causes. I have not had any with Cheerios. I am glad they are open to the discussions and hope the continue to make more GF cereals for us. This is not a one size fits all disease. So everyone is different. Try it, see how it goes for you. If it works, fabulous, you have a new food option. If not, move on. Thanks General Mills.

 
linen53
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 9:24:39 AM PST
I read a very in depth article in the magazine Gluten Free Living last month on the facility built specifically for their Cheerios (entirely dedicated gluten free building) by General Mills specifically for taking the gluten out of the oats. General Mills said if they used certified gluten free oats they would buy up the entire gluten free oat market. When they bring fresh oats to this building it starts at the top of the building and by the time the oats reach the bottom it is gluten free.

Furthermore, the article stated that no chemicals were used to extract the gluten!

 
PhilNW
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 12:47:45 PM PST
As long as they are honest about what that they are doing, it's up to the individual to make the choice. Sourcing pure GF oats will take time because they will probably have to contract with farmers to clear the fields of any wheat growing wild and building new silos. Transportation will have to be perfectly clean as well.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
15 Sep 2015 1:50:20 PM PST
And the cost? Again, if anyone can point me to any tests done that show that GF labelled cereals by General Mills are testing over the 20ppm limit, please post this here.

 
Susie
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 1:51:12 PM PST
I'm a very sensitive celiac, that said, I wish every country would adopt Australia's attitude. No gluten means no gluten. Not 20 ppm is ok. My doctor says I'm the lucky one because I know when I've been glutened (and it isn't any fun for months!!!). How do all of you eating this cereal know that you're not damaging your intestines and other parts of your body? I am appreciative of companies that try, but if a product is not made with known gluten free ingredients, in a gluten free facility, my reply is no thank you! My good health and well being is worth more to me than eating any food out in the market.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
15 Sep 2015 1:58:33 PM PST
This is a common misconception of our regulations. 20 ppm doesn't mean that companies are adding gluten to achieve a consistent 19 ppm level--it simply means that none of their products can test over 20 ppm if they use "gluten-free" on their labels. The problem you have when you keep lowering the threshold will be that no companies will take the risk of putting it on their labels--kind of like how the organic certification movement is playing out--many of the foods I now buy use all organic ingredients, however, they don't have the certification or put "Organic" on their label. If using the term on the label is at all helpful for celiacs they may not want to push for a lower threshold that would make companies stop using the term on their labels.

 
endrun
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 6:51:52 PM PST
I think that is incorrect and a bad perspective. It was the FDA which established the 20 ppm--which for celiacs is too high. This is a bit like saying because Nuns make low gluten Communion wafers, both the Nuns and the Priests are doing right to serve Celiac Catholics the same at Sunday Mass. Harrrruuummph.

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
17 Sep 2015 1:12:20 PM PST
20 ppm isn't too high according to the bulk of research done on the topic. If you keep changing the bar for companies none of them will participate, and they will all stop putting "gluten-free" on their labels, even if the product is gluten-free. The risk associated with a product recall or lawsuit would just be too great to bother. General Mills just invested millions on a facility to create gluten-free cereal using the 20 ppm standard, if you suddenly change that to 10 ppm they and many other companies won't bother, and the cost of products with GF on the label will skyrocket.

 
Susie
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said this on
18 Sep 2015 11:16:04 AM PST
So admin, what you are saying is that it is more important to have foods available with up to 20ppm of gluten in them, and that is per serving! So, if someone eats 3 items a day and each has up to 20ppm they are getting 60ppm in that one day! I think my health and the health of all celiacs is more important than getting companies to label their foods gluten free. I'm not the only one out there that can't tolerate 20ppm. We deserve better! As for lawsuits, bottom line is I'm responsible for what goes in my digestive system. There's always going to be someone out there to sue anyone for anything. Also, more recent research that I have read indicates that more celiacs on gf diets are having troubles, hmmmm could that be because 20ppm, which is only a convenience for manufacturers, is really too much??? Do any of the "so-called experts" making these decisions have celiac disease?

 
admin
( Author)
said this on
21 Sep 2015 12:09:06 PM PST
You are fully misunderstanding this limit, and how this labeling law works. 20 ppm has been shown in numerous studies to be a safe level for all but a tiny minority of celiacs. The bigger question is do you want companies to discontinue using the term "gluten-free" on their labels altogether? If the standard gets lower that is what will happen...it will backfire on us. Just because we have this regulation does not mean there is any gluten in products labeled "gluten-free," it is simply a regulation that companies cannot break if they want to use this term on their products, and the standard is considered a safe level by our government and most scientists for those with celiac disease. Changing this to zero will not increase your safety, or increase your food choices, it will have the opposite effect.

 
Suzanne
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said this on
15 Sep 2015 10:09:10 PM PST
I'm celiac, on 3rd box of GF cheerios, no reaction, thank you.

 
Annah
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said this on
16 Sep 2015 1:48:43 PM PST
I suggest that all of you who have gotten sick to follow through with the Claims at the FDA website for Gluten Free. Report the companies and products that made you sick. Start the ball rolling for adherence to the ruling that we fought so hard to get. "Gluten Free" does not mean free of Gluten. Hold their feet to the fire, Report them!

 
Luann
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said this on
14 Dec 2015 9:47:28 AM PST
I love all the General Mills GF cereals and have a problem with none of them. Love them for working to improve our lifestyle! I did not have a bowl of cereal for over 20 years and am thrilled to be able to do so now.

 
cara arellano
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said this on
15 Dec 2015 1:14:58 PM PST
I was so excited to see these available, but had facial edema and fatigue after a test.

 
Dee
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said this on
09 Feb 2016 1:51:22 PM PST
Just purchased a box colored in purple of Multi Grain Cheerios. Was thrilled to see them. Have only eaten a few dry to taste. I hesitated if Whole Grain Oats meant purchased Gluten Free Oats but bought them anyway. To solve all this I would recommend General Mills purchase Gluten Free Oats. Meaning they are not grown near gluten grains and then kept separate in their facility to prevent cross contamination at that point. I think it is a good product and oats in themselves are gluten free.

 
charlotte
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said this on
09 Dec 2016 8:28:23 AM PST
I too was excited to have these and do appreciate General Mills' honesty about their process. Sadly, like some other reviewers I had a reaction to these Cheerios - I had many clearly reactive symptoms. The average person does not realize that any company can put a gluten free label on their product and it doesn't mean the product is gluten free. There may be less gluten but it is still there. If they aren't certified gluten free oats they are NOT gluten free. There should be repercussions for false claims. I was so excited and now just feel deceived.




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