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General Mills Describes the Success of its Gluten Detection System

General Mills uses a proprietary optical sorting process to make oats meet gluten-free standards.


Photo: CC--Bernard Sprague. NZ

Celiac.com 11/03/2017 - Talk about finding needles in a haystack. Imagine, if you will, sifting through rail cars full of oats and plucking out nearly every stray grain of wheat, barley or rye so that the final product tests at under 20 ppm, instead of the original 200 ppm to 1,000 ppm.

Quite a challenge, yes? It's a challenge General Mills take on every day as it produces Gluten Free Cheerios from raw oats into the final product. According to their website, General Mills ships 500,000 cases of Cheerios each week.

To do this, General Mills uses a proprietary optical sorting process, for which it has filed a patent with the US Patent Office. That process sifts through those rail cars of oats, with stray gluten ranging from 200 ppm to 1,000 ppm, and "takes it down to less than 20" ppm, said Paul Wehling, principal scientist for General Mills.

Mr. Wehling told audience members at the annual meeting of AACC International at Cereals 17 in San Diego on Oct. 9, that the General Mills sorting process achieves a "2- to 3-log reduction of the gluten."

To verify their oat sorting results, General Mills uses enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing and visual inspection to spot and eliminate gluten-containing grains such as wheat.

The company uses hand inspection in place of lateral flow testing, as they find that "hand inspection is much more efficient because we can look at quite a few more seeds," Mr. Wehling said.

That process would seem to be validated by Laura K. Allred, regulatory and standards manager for the Gluten Intolerance Group, Auburn, Wash., which recommends companies use a combination of visual testing and ELISA testing.

However, the General Mills process is not without critics. One of the more prominent voices in opposition to General Mills has been the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA).

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The CCA has made numerous statements questioning the process General Mills uses to create their Gluten-Free Cheerios, and other oat products.

CCA statements, or statements attributed to the CCA include comments in an article published in October 26, 2017, in which Globalnews.ca writes "[CCA] expressed doubt in the company's mechanical sorting system and claim of 100 per cent removal of cross-contaminants."

Candiangrocer.com reported in August 2016 that the CCA was, to paraphrase, "awaiting evidence showing the new line [of Gluten Free Cheerios] is 100% free of gluten." It is unclear what the CCA means by such terms as "100% gluten-free," "100 percent removal," and "100 percent safe for people with celiac disease."

Is the CCA hinting that the standard for gluten-free products should be 0 ppm?

Besides voicing fear and concerns, and citing alleged complaints by members, the CCA never actually provided any evidence that Cheerios failed to meet the US and Canadian standard of 20 ppm allowable gluten, and were, thus, not gluten-free.

The CBC reported on August 31 2016, that the "Canadian Celiac Association is warning against gluten-free Cheerios products over concerns the cereal is not 100 per cent safe for people with celiac disease."

Again, the CCA made this recommendation based not on independent product testing, or on any confirmed accounts of gluten-exposure in people with celiac disease who had consumed Cheerios, but on "fear" and "concerns" driven by anecdotal evidence. Moreover, they seemingly disregarded overwhelming anecdotal evidence provided by people with celiac disease who say they eat Cheerios safely. The CCA has yet to provide a satisfactory response for their warnings, or to provide any clarification of their position regarding the safety of products that test under 20 ppm gluten for people with celiac disease.

The FDA recently announced that 99.5% of products tested came in under the 20 ppm standard set by the FDA for labeling a product "gluten-free." In fact, only one of 750 samples taken from 250 products tested above 20 ppm. That product was recalled and the manufacturer corrected the problem. There has been no indication the Cheerios tested outside the FDA's gluten-free standard.

That means that even an ambitious sorting process like the one developed by General Mills seems to be working as designed. It means that consumers can trust the FDA, and American gluten-free labels, and that consumers of gluten-free foods can buy with confidence.

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9 Responses:

 
MQP
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
07 Nov 2017 5:06:40 AM PST
I don't trust these brands at all. The only way something is truly gluten free is when there are zero wheat products mixed in or exposed to the product. Less than 20 ppm is still too much gluten for sensitive celiacs. There's too much room for error and some brands, like Bob's Red Mill, will just go on labeling their products gluten free when they have been contaminated with high levels of gluten. I have learned the hard way and spend my money on trusted brands like Enjoy Life which never mix their products with gluten.

 
Celiac.com
( Author)
said this on
07 Nov 2017 10:53:30 AM PST
"Less than 20 ppm is still too much gluten for sensitive celiacs." Please explain, as this level is considered safe by experts and governments, and any company can have issues with cross contamination (even the company you mentioned does not grow its grains, ship them, mill them, etc.).

 
Jefferson Adams
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated ( Author)
said this on
11 Nov 2017 1:47:55 PM PST
I haven't seen any evidence to show that Bob's Red Mill products labeled "gluten-free"are contaminated with gluten. Where are you getting that? Also, the scientific evidence show that the vast majority of people with celiac tolerate gluten below 20 ppm, and that they experience gut healing and relief from symptoms. Remember, back in the days when there was no standard, there was simply no way to tell if anything was actually gluten-free or safe.

 
Adonnya
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingemptyratingempty Unrated
said this on
07 Nov 2017 8:48:35 PM PST
I don't trust them. GF Bisquik made me very ill. There can be cross contamination from the fields, in the air, and on the equipment. This is the second article concerning General Mills. What's the deal? Are they trying to convince us they are safe for their bottom line?

 
Jefferson Adams
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated ( Author)
said this on
11 Nov 2017 1:43:47 PM PST
The issue is in the news lately. Also, the FDA just released their report on gluten-free product compliance. They tested hundreds of products, and found overwhelming compliance with gluten standards in food labeled gluten free. Overall, 99.5% of products tested were compliant. That means that American-made foods are likely not contaminated with gluten.

 
John
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
08 Nov 2017 6:16:35 AM PST
I agree with the Canadian Celiac Association's stand point. The term "Gluten-free" implies 0 ppm. I feel that something labeled GF should be 0. If something is gluten LESS then maybe I'll take a chance, but it's me choosing not some large corporation...jf..

 
Celiac.com
( Author)
said this on
08 Nov 2017 9:12:12 AM PST
Hopefully you understand that there is no testing that goes down to zero? If they made the labeling laws zero gluten, then no company would use the term on their packaging, and we would be right back where we were before there were labeling laws.

 
sc'Que?
Rating: ratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfullratingfull Unrated
said this on
09 Nov 2017 4:41:02 AM PST
And yet... my local grocery has a section of freezers clearly labeled "GLUTEN-FREE" (along with a please read labels carefully CYA statement) that have 4 different non-GF products planted right in the middle of a bank of 3 GF-dedicated freezers. These are next to a longer section of "NATURAL LIVING" freezers with a wide range of both organic, diet-specific and gluten-reduced products. The non-GF "blintzes" were reported to the store chain nearly 2 months ago, and followed up on 17 October 2017. And while there are now 2 freezer doors between the "Natural" and "GF" freezers that are currently un-labeled, these blatantly non-GF items still remain in the middle of the GF freezers! When I brought this up tonight for the third time with the staff, the overnight freezer manager said he was aware of the complaints, and that the grocery chain had attempted to move the offending items to the other section of the freezers. But the company who sets the "floorplan" model for the section refused to let them do so! The outsourced management company is reputed to be called DPI. Research shows they are based in Canada. WHY IS A COMPANY IN CANADA TELLING A SMALL GROCERY CHAIN (BASED IN MD & PA) HOW THEY ARE TO ORGANIZE THEIR SHELVES??? THIS NONSENSE LEADS TO MANY PEOPLE GETTING SICK because no one seems to have any accountability within the immediate chain of command. IN ADDITION TO THIS PROBLEM of non-GF product getting shelved beside GF products GETTING FIXED... the paradigm of grocery chains outsourcing the floor plan management NEEDS TO STOP. There are local people who went to school for this sort of thing who can handle the floorplan (and within a general corporate framework) who can take responsibility for fixing these sorts of problems in short order... instead of it dragging on for months and months.

 
Scott Adams
( Author)
said this on
09 Nov 2017 11:26:08 AM PST
What does this have to do with the article?




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