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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    General Mills Draws Fire for Gluten-free Manufacturing Choices

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Caption: Image: CC--theimpulsivebuy

    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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    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.

    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/

     

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    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.

    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/

     

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    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/

    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?

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    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/

    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

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    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.

    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.

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    I love all the General Mills gluten-free 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.

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    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.

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    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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  • 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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