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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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    Biggest concern I have is the chemical additives in Cheerios including some that are banned from commercial use but the US government says are okay to eat! Organics don't seem to have them.

    What "chemical additives" are you talking about, and what do they have to do with the gluten-free status of the cereal?

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    I was beyond excited to try Cheerios again after years of going without, but unfortunately I got pretty sick off the non-contaminated Cheerios.

    Perhaps you are one of the 10% of celiacs who also have an oat sensitivity?

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    My 8 year old daughter has medically diagnosed Celiac disease, she was diagnosed at 18 months old. She vomits uncontrollably 2 hours after eating anything that isn't gluten free. She is very sensitive to it. The slightest cross contamination sends her into a vomiting frenzy that lasts up to 4 hours. This weekend she ate a bowl of gluten-free chocolate cheerios for the first time at ever. She ate them at 830am. At 1045 am she began vomiting and she knew immediately it was the cheerios. It was the only thing she had eaten that day so far. The vomiting lasted until 3pm that day. Gluten free cheerios are NOT safe for Celiacs!

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    Guest Jefferson Adams

    Posted

    My 8 year old daughter has medically diagnosed Celiac disease, she was diagnosed at 18 months old. She vomits uncontrollably 2 hours after eating anything that isn't gluten free. She is very sensitive to it. The slightest cross contamination sends her into a vomiting frenzy that lasts up to 4 hours. This weekend she ate a bowl of gluten-free chocolate cheerios for the first time at ever. She ate them at 830am. At 1045 am she began vomiting and she knew immediately it was the cheerios. It was the only thing she had eaten that day so far. The vomiting lasted until 3pm that day. Gluten free cheerios are NOT safe for Celiacs!

    Is it possible your daughter is also sensitive to oats? About 8-10% of celiac sufferers are also sensitive to oats. Also, did you report this to the FDA, or to General Mills? They just need the batch information from the box for reference, and they will likely follow-up. They can do that these days. If you feel the product is unsafe, it would be good to get that info out as quickly as possible, I would think. You might save many people needless suffering.

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    As celiacs we must come to terms with being guinea pigs in our ever changing understanding of what is and isn't safe. If you don't feel comfortable with eating Cheerios then just wait for there to be more studies on it before trying. In the meantime please thank all the brave souls who are willing to risk their health so that you can eat your favorite foods with peace of mind.

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    This is focused on the sorting process. That is the FRONT END of the production. The real problem is the testing being done at the BACK END. General Mills gathers a box from all production runs for 24 hours, combines them and then tests that for Part Per Million (PPM). That is an AVERAGE PPM for the entire days production. It has no bearing on the individual box. Proof is that this testing process was in place when the recalled boxes were sent to consumers. If the testing was adequate, those boxes should never have left the plants at all. The focus of this article is on the sorting process. That is the START of the process. Cleary, if the only thing that mattered was the sorting process, then General Mills would never have needed to recall nearly 2 million boxes. I have a few questions: How many boxes are produced in a 24 hours period? Where is the raw data for the ppm testing results for those recalled products? If General Mills is so anxious to encourage customer confidence, they would be releasing these numbers to show us how these boxes made it onto shelves and into consumers hands. It is disappointing to see such a one sided argument implying that the start of the process is all that matters. Regardless of the CCA argument, General Mills continues to hide facts from consumers who need 100% transparency in order to stay healthy.

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    Months ago, when Cheerios came out with their Gluten Free boxes, I ate some and was just fine. However, this time around, not fine. I started snacking on them at work instead of other things as an alternative. I was feeling funky here and there but it was so minimal I chalked it up to stress. I ate a bowl Thursday night, woke up Friday fatigued, massive headache, not "right." Ate a bowl for breakfast Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. Headache is more intense, my moods are sour, I'm lethargic, I feel really, really weird. BOOM! IT HAS TO BE THE CHEERIOS. It's the only new thing I've brought into my diet in the last week. For some, it may not affect them. For me, Cheerios are back on the no list.

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    On 10/31/2016 at 8:30 AM, Guest Doug said:

    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!

    Fool me twice, shame on me! I just realized that "gluten free" Multi-Grain Cheerios have struck again. Foolishly, after many years hiatus, I succumbed to the ongoing discounts at CVS ($1.89/box) and picture of Ellen on the box, stocked up on a half-dozen or so . . . and have slowly been poisoning myself over the past few months. Today it all came to a head with brain fog, a sudden crash "nap" and generally itchy skin along with a stinging pustule on one of my knuckles. And then a big "Aha!" ~ Glutened again! The loose stools I've been having for the past few months, since resuming the Cheerios habit, suddenly now all made sense. Last week was a pustule on another knuckle joint, and some under-the-skin fluid buildup at the back of my neck. Why was I so stupid? So daring? So trusting? So naive? You got me once more, General Mills. Last time it was gluten-free Chex (big sales at Walgreens). Now gluten-free Cheerios. But never again! Here's the Watchdog's position statement, which hasn't changed in the past few years: https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/product/gluten-free-cheerios-combined-datasummary-statement/419  I should have known better!

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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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