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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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    What's irresponsible is the "innocent until proven guilty" perspective taken in this article. It does a great disservice to celiacs who need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a product is completely safe for them before using it. The use it, see if you react, and then we'll discuss it approach is just as bad as: if it were really dangerous, people would be reporting it. It doesn't work that way. Hubby reacted to these gluten-free Cheerios, and the box was NOT from the re-called batch. He didn't see the point in reporting it, so your logic doesn't hold up. Me? I chose not to go anywhere near the stuff because of the way they test. I'm a super-sensitive celiac who reacts to levels far lower than 20 ppm. I already have several autoimmune diseases, so to me, it's simply not worth the risk of getting more.

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    Although it is a timely topic, the more important point is developing celiac in the first place. I have the genetics for celiac but did not develop it until my late 50's. I ate many wheat products with no problem, but when I ate Cheerios (regular) and Ritz, I developed a particular GI reaction. I subsequently developed the same reaction to all gluten products. As a result of Cheerios and Ritz, my immune system now reacts to all of them. It is interesting that Meg (prior post) eats Cheerios regularly and that her daughter developed celiac. Her daughter probably ate Cheerio's often, following Mom, and got the disease early. I bet a lot of people with celiac were Cheerios and Nabisco fans. Maybe it's some additive, might have something to do with why they are having problems with their gluten-free variety.

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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.

    David you may be like me, even <5ppm can affect you.

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    Avenin, the glutenous protein in oats can cause similar reactions that celiacs experience when exposed to gluten. Not sure if it's just a sensitivity in me or a true allergy (rare), but I avoid oats - gluten free or otherwise.

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    Although it is a timely topic, the more important point is developing celiac in the first place. I have the genetics for celiac but did not develop it until my late 50's. I ate many wheat products with no problem, but when I ate Cheerios (regular) and Ritz, I developed a particular GI reaction. I subsequently developed the same reaction to all gluten products. As a result of Cheerios and Ritz, my immune system now reacts to all of them. It is interesting that Meg (prior post) eats Cheerios regularly and that her daughter developed celiac. Her daughter probably ate Cheerio's often, following Mom, and got the disease early. I bet a lot of people with celiac were Cheerios and Nabisco fans. Maybe it's some additive, might have something to do with why they are having problems with their gluten-free variety.

    A small percentage of celiacs are also avenin intolerant, which is protein found in oats, but it is considered a separate food intolerance that isn't part of celiac disease.

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    Why would you say that it is irresponsible for someone to think General Mills is using a faulty system? What IS irresponsible is taking gluten-filled oats, trying to remove the gluten, then not providing sufficient testing on their products. Cheerios are a "gluten removed" food. What is also irresponsible is how General Mills handled the recall - ignoring comments from sick Celiacs and claiming that they were sick because of the high fiber content. They also refuse to answer questions outside of their general statement about the recall. Nothing that General Mills is doing is responsible. You said in a comment above that this article is in response to what Samantha said on CBS - have you ever been on the news? They largely control and edit what you say for time constraints. There is always more to the story than what is briefly said in a news program.

    For decades celiacs have been safely eating gluten-removed foods (think Codex Alimentarius wheat starch products in Europe), and many are now safely drinking gluten-removed beer.

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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.

    No need to inject conspiracy theories here Rick, we have no connection with General Mills, and have reported both positive and negative stories about their company.

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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!!!!!!

    We are not ashamed to bring this important topic in front of you to discuss, and nor should we be.

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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.

    You are spreading misinformation. The FDA link you include, and your claim that the 30 boxes tested were NOT part of the voluntary recall is incorrect--all lot number in the link you post are part of their voluntary recall due to accidental wheat contamination: https://mic.com/articles/126341/cheerios-and-honey-nut-cheerios-recall-here-s-how-to-find-out-if-yours-were-affected#.ypxmYDJ1d

     

     

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    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.

    Certified gluten-free products have also tested positive for gluten.

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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.

    General Mills has created and patented the technology to do this mechanical separation: https://www.celiac.com/articles/24461/1/General-Mills-Looks-to-Patent-Gluten-free-Oats/Page1.html

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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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