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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Are Gluten-Free Cheerios Really Unsafe for Celiacs?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Canadian Celiac Association warns against Gluten-Free Cheerios, but is there good evidence?


    Caption: Should celiacs worry about gluten in Gluten-free Cheerios? Photo: CC--Mike Mozart

    Celiac.com 10/26/2016 - There's been a bit of confusion lately over claims by the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) that the optical sorting system used by General Mills to produce gluten-free Cheerios and other cereals is somehow flawed, and their products not safe for people with celiac disease. The CCA has issued a warning to Canadian consumers with celiac disease against eating gluten-free Cheerios products, based on concerns of possible contamination due to a what they say is a faulty sorting process.

    General Mills debuted their patented optical sorting process and launched gluten-free Cheerios in the U.S. last summer, and they spent millions of dollars developing the new technology. Later, the company voluntarily recalled nearly 2 million boxes, when a plant mixing error caused wheat flour to mixed with oat flour. However, since that time there have been no known reports of systemic contamination, which is what the CCA is alleging.

    General Mills launched five flavors of gluten-free Cheerios in Canada this summer: Original, Honey Nut, Multi-Grain, Apple Cinnamon and Chocolate. Clearly, the CCA is looking to protect people with celiac disease from the perceived possibility of gluten contamination, but the CCA's statement goes beyond urging simple caution, and urging celiacs to report any cases of gluten contamination and to save boxes for lab testing.

    "Hearing stories…"

    Samantha Maloney, former president of the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, told CBC Radio's All In A Day that the General Mills process of sorting grains to produce gluten-free cereal is "flawed."
    She and her group claim that they have made the claim because they have "heard stories." Has Maloney or anyone in her group actually followed up on these claims, these "stories" she's "hearing?" Without offering any proof or names, or scientific data for making her claim, Maloney went on to say that General Mills is having "a bit of a problem" with the way they are cleaning their oats. Is she saying that the product is being contaminated by gluten? It seems so.

    Well, if that's true, then surely some celiac suffer who ate Cheerios and had a bad reaction must have a box of cereal that can be tested. If General Mills is churning out box after box of gluten-tainted cereal and labeling it "gluten-free," then it seems like a massive scandal and lawsuit waiting to happen. Maybe some enterprising person, or even a law firm, can go grab some boxes and get them tested, and add some actual evidence to these claims.

    One would think Maloney and the CCA would confirm such information beforehand, rather than first making the claim, and then asking people to provide confirmation after the fact. If Maloney's claims are proven true, then General Mills deserves to be called out, and Celiac.com will certainly be among the first to report it.

    Until then, saying that General Mills is knowingly using a faulty system to sort their gluten-free oats is simply irresponsible hearsay, and doesn't really help provide accurate information for consumers with celiac disease, something the Canadian Celiac Association claims is part of its mission. It's one thing to urge caution, and to call for testing and evidence gathering that supports any claims of gluten-contamination, but it's entirely another to claim without any evidence a product and process are flawed and likely to harm people with celiac disease.

    What happens if the General Mills process turns out to be okay? What happens if Gluten-Free Cheerios and other products are perfectly safe? That means the CCA was not only wrong, they were wrong without even having any facts to support their original claim. How does that help people with celiac disease or the CCA?

    Celiac.com continues to support efforts by the CCA and other groups to inform and protect people with celiac disease, but we also urge proper facts, data, context and evidence to support any hard claims about products, gluten-free or otherwise.

    Regarding the status of General Mills' patented optical sorting process for producing gluten-free grains for their Cheerios and other gluten-free products, Celiac.com urges caution on the part of individual consumers. Currently there is no evidence to suggest that any of these products not gluten-free, but, there is also no evidence that similar gluten-free oat cereals made by smaller companies do a better job to ensure that their products are safe, yet there is no controversy about them.

    Ultimately people with celiac disease should use caution, and, in the event they experience gluten contamination, they should save the box and report it to the Canadian Celiac Association, and/ or any of the other official resources listed on the CCA website:

    Stay tuned to celiac.com for information on this and related stories.


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    I stay away from wheat and gluten because it gives me diarrhea, joint aches, weight and energy loss. After a couple of weeks of eating "gluten free" cheerios (2-3 bowls per day), I developed diarrhea, joint aches, cramps and energy loss. My cereal was from several different boxes and different stores. I got off the Cheerios and those symptoms are gone.

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    Wow, I am just wondering if you managed to talk with Samantha Maloney to verify your own accusations against her. You seem to be accusing her of the same thing that you're doing. And if she is wrong then I would think General Mills are the people who should be coming out with a statement such as this, if in fact she's totally wrong. Knowing that they recalled so much of their own product leads anyone to think that they must take extra precaution if you want to eat their cereal. As we all know, nothing is infallible. Being an extremely sensitive celiac there is no way I'd eat anything from a company that also has wheat in their manufacturing facilities. I've been the recipient of cross-contamination far too often. I say good on Samantha Maloney for warning people of the possibilities. You have to remember, many people are new to this diagnosis and have no idea what is good for them and what isn't.

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    I eat them almost every day and so does my celiac daughter. YES, I actually got sick on the recalled ones. I actually looked up the box number online and was shocked because I couldn't figure out what glutened me and was thrilled with their corporate responsibility for the error. NO we haven't gotten sick since. I firmly applaud General Mills for the advances they have made and will continue to enthusiastically endorse their products.

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    Wow, I am just wondering if you managed to talk with Samantha Maloney to verify your own accusations against her. You seem to be accusing her of the same thing that you're doing. And if she is wrong then I would think General Mills are the people who should be coming out with a statement such as this, if in fact she's totally wrong. Knowing that they recalled so much of their own product leads anyone to think that they must take extra precaution if you want to eat their cereal. As we all know, nothing is infallible. Being an extremely sensitive celiac there is no way I'd eat anything from a company that also has wheat in their manufacturing facilities. I've been the recipient of cross-contamination far too often. I say good on Samantha Maloney for warning people of the possibilities. You have to remember, many people are new to this diagnosis and have no idea what is good for them and what isn't.

    We are reporting on what Samantha told a major news outlet--CBS. If you were to just go by people's stories about what is safe and what isn't for a celiac diet, your diet would be severely limited. That is though, your choice to make. A major celiac support organization, however, has a higher responsibility to its members, and should require much more evidence to make such claims.

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    gluten-free Cheerios are FANTASTIC - and they have never made me sick. I was diagnosed in 2007 and have been gluten free ever since. I have been cross contaminated so I would readily recognize it if it occurred after eating Cheerios.

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    Less than 20 ppm is NOT gluten-free. I affirmed this years ago, by binging on allegedly "gluten-free" [not!] Chex when they first came out a few years ago, which incited a severe skin reaction. [i have DH, and consider myself a canary in the coal mine of gluten contamination.] I called in the FDA to test , but with their limited resources they were unfortunately unable to detect traces of gluten below 20 ppm. But, the evidence was clear: empirically, Chex was not "safe" for me. The symptoms were unmistakable, and directly related to the ingestion of Chex. I have never purchased another box, and refuse to trust General Mills "gluten-free" product line. Once bitten, twice shy. Caveat Emptor!

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    The issue with Cheerios is the mechanical sorting of the oats. That process still has some gluten remaining... it's not a uniform process so some boxes could have more gluten than other boxes. It's not just General Mills using mechanical sorting of oats... many companies use mechanical sorting- that is what should concern people with celiac. No one has to label if their oats were mechanically sorted either. It's important for people with celiac to consume oats from a dedicated oat field.

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    Guest Cynthia C Kelley

    Posted

    I did get really sick when I first ate Cheerios.The company admitted to a problem. I contacted the company and they gave me coupons for more boxes, which I used for the Food Shelf as I didn't trust them. I was apprehensive, but finally ate Cheerios again. Since then, I have eaten Cheerios (without milk as I'm dairy free) many times and I've been fine. I'm celiac and very sensitive to gluten and I share Honey Nut Cheerios with my husband and I am fine.

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    If one credible highly gluten sensitive person gets sick in a way that they only get sick from gluten, and then they stop eating the product and they get better, that proves that the product is not really gluten free, and it should not be consumed by highly gluten sensitive people. It is not enough proof to make an accusation against the company. So, warning people is good. Believing that there is no doubt that the product is not gluten free is also good. But, accusing the company is premature. Not because there is not enough proof, but because the proof is not the type that the public will accept as proof. Eating the product and keeping the box for testing is not being cautious, because keeping the box does not stop you from getting sick.

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    You make some very good points. As a person with celiac, it is easy to feel the world is always against you, and to stay in a permanent defensive crouch. But when corporate America finds it in their interests to produce gluten-free food, then we really must honor that. I would assume they are as safe as they say they are -- until there is evidence to prove otherwise.

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    I eat them almost every day and so does my celiac daughter. YES, I actually got sick on the recalled ones. I actually looked up the box number online and was shocked because I couldn't figure out what glutened me and was thrilled with their corporate responsibility for the error. NO we haven't gotten sick since. I firmly applaud General Mills for the advances they have made and will continue to enthusiastically endorse their products.

    I can finally eat Lucky Charms again! My once favorite cereal and now my new favorite cereal. I agree with Meg, General Mills is doing their best to get a product to market that we most of us can eat in a responsible way. There must be a difference for some people when a food is certified gluten free verses just labeled as such.

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    I LOVE the new Cheerios. THANK YOU General Mills. I missed Cheerios so much. I am EXTREMELY sensitive to gluten....EXTREMELY and Cheerios doesn't bother me at all. I am so VERY grateful.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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