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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 used get sick regularly from Cheerios. I have not become sick from them since they claimed they are gluten free. As a matter of fact, it is the only dry cereal I eat. Thank you General Mills.

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    I was thrilled when Cheerios came out gluten-free and I could eat my favorite cereal again. I have had no problems with the gluten-free Cheerios. As a matter of fact, this morning I had the Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

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    Your article is flawed. After the recall of the contaminated boxes ~ the FDA did indeed test 30 some odd boxes of the gluten-free Cheerios and found that the levels of gluten was different in every box, including over the 20ppm limit. These were NOT part of the recall from the other incident, this is actually a second recall. There has been no report of why these are contaminated and what they are doing to fix it: http://www.fda.gov/Food/RecallsOutbreaksEmergencies/SafetyAlertsAdvisories/ucm465984.htm As well, Gluten Free Watch Dog has also had much correspondence with General Mills, done testing and reported that they are not safe: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/product/gluten-free-cheerios-combined-datasummary-statement/419 So ~ in saying that this is because the CCA 'heard stories' is not remotely accurate. There is evidence that these products are not gluten free, there are many reports of people being sick. Your article is 100% inaccurate. Sensationalism ~ sad.

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    To solve this problem dealing with General Mills and their tainted catastrophic ordeal with "Simply 'Gluten-free' Cheerios", I would highly recommend GM to remove all Gluten-free Cheerios off the shelf, and furthermore, take them off the market! GM is committing a dis-service to a large segment of the population that is "gluten free" . I will never touch or eat another box of GM gluten free products ,ever again! This is unheard of and disgusting as if you are promoting health and safety of our country's citizens! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF!!!!!!

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    The problem with all gluten free food is that it's OK until it's not. I've been sick occasionally on sorted oats (Bob's Red Mill, Pamela´s oat bars), but never on purity protocol oats. I feel the risk of a sorting error is greater than that of oats grown with strict controls. Purity protocol oats also adhere to a lower ppm standard. I guess "safe" depends on if the ppm and sorting error risk are within one's comfort zone.

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    I have tried eating the "Gluten Free" Cheerios a few times from different boxes and every time I reacted. I only tried a few times because I wasn't sure what made me sick. Now I know with absolute certainty. I do not at all believe in the process they use and will never again eat Cheerios after getting sick every time I tried them. Not all celiac are created equal some are more sensitive than others so they might not be bad enough for all celiacs to react to them. I am highly sensitive and react to the slightest cross contamination. So Thanks, but no Thanks General Mills!! You can keep your Cheerios!!!!

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    I agree that claims need to be backed up with solid evidence. I appreciate the efforts various companies are making to provide the celiac and gluten intolerant community with food options and think that unless we are very careful when we call them out for errors, we are going to scare away other manufacturers and restaurants who are genuinely trying to accommodate us.

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    Where was the recall? I don't generally respond to blogs but if you are new to this gluten-free stuff do to an allergy, please beware. I did get sick after eating a gluten-free honey nut cheerios and more than once as after I while I heard others say they were OK and I got sick again so it was definitely the Cheerios. I don't know how sensitive I am but I can eat candy bars that say may contain wheat (processed in plant with other wheat products) and I am generally OK; that is not the case with Cheerios.

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    I, like many other celiacs, am also allergic to "pure" oats (those that are completely uncontaminated by wheat or other gluten sources). I have similar symptoms to having been glutened (diarrhea, stomach cramps, etc.) after eating oats, though the symptoms last a shorter length of time. I warn other celiacs to be cautious of ingesting even gluten-free oats, until you can confirm that you aren't in the 25-30% who have this extra allergy. It may be that a faulty vsystem of vetting the oats is not the only cause of potential problems for celiacs.

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    WOW, is someone in bed with General Mills? Did someone become the official spokesman for General Mills? If they get an independent third party to make their product "Certified Gluten Free" and I'd eat it, until then I am staying away. Maybe you can pass this along to them, since it appears you have a close relationship with General Mills.

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    Not all with celiac are the same, that's why diagnosing it is so difficult. You can have 10 people with celiac eat the exact same meal and all ten have may have different reactions. But we do know is this, NO AMOUNT of gluten is safe for someone with celiac and damage can actually be occurring without you or I even knowing it. Everyone with celiac should be supportive of each other, that's what will make a successful support group and make for strong public advocacy.

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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 science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. 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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