Two weeks ago I shared important information about gluten-free Cheerios. If you haven’t read that yet, please go read it now. Today I want to give you an update as well as my thoughts on some of the responses to that post.
Tricia Thompson (Gluten Free Watchdog) posted an update based on a conversation she had with General Mills. It is both encouraging and very concerning.
The Encouraging News
As I mentioned in part 1, General Mills mechanically separates oats from gluten-containing grains. Barley seems to pose the biggest problem in terms of it slipping through the mechanical process and causing contamination.
Oats: Because of the problem with barley contamination, General Mills will be getting a large percentage of oats from farmers who do not grow barley, and they are also looking into using some pure oats.
Testing: GM will be testing more individual boxes of Cheerios.
The Discouraging News
Testing: GM will continue to use mean (average) testing based on a sample of 12 – 18 boxes. They will also continue to use the R7002 assay which has a lower limit of quantification of 10 ppm. Yet they use values below that limit (which are not necessarily accurate) when determining lot means. Switching to the R7001 assay with a lower limit of quantification of 5 ppm would increase accuracy.
Why is this a problem? Tricia initially mentioned that when she visited General Mills, some of the extraction values shared with her were above 20 ppm. In her update, she revealed that one of those was above 90 ppm of gluten! But because the other values were so low, the lot mean was below 20 ppm. And remember what I just mentioned about the test that is used. Because they use values that are below the test’s lower limit, those lot means may not be accurate.
The problem with “I didn’t react, so they’re safe”
I got some blog comments and many Facebook comments about my last post. Some people understand the danger and are thankful for the information. Some have already tried the Cheerios and gotten sick from them. Others are choosing to trust General Mills, and many people are saying that they (or a child or spouse) have eaten the gluten-free Cheerios with no problem. Therefore, they think that all the gluten-free Cheerios are safe for them and anyone else.
The problem with that is that many of the boxes do contain less than 20 ppm of gluten. So most people most of the time would not react to eating them. I will repeat what I said in my last post. I do not think that all of the cereal is unsafe to eat. I do think it is likely that some of the boxes of gluten-free Cheerios are unsafe (maybe as unsafe as 90 ppm!), and we have no way of knowing which ones.
That means that eating gluten-free Cheerios is taking a risk for anyone who needs to be on a gluten-free diet 100% of the time, which includes everyone with celiac disease, as well as many others. Now, I understand that we all take risks to some degree (certainly eating out at most restaurants is a risk), and each person needs to assess the risk factors for themselves.
I don’t think at this point that gluten-free Cheerios are a risk worth taking. Especially if it is to be eaten regularly and not as an occasional treat. Autoimmune disease is not to be taken lightly, and triggering the autoimmune response can have effects that go beyond immediate symptoms, including the development of other autoimmune diseases.
The idea that some boxes of cereal labeled gluten-free could potentially have 90 ppm of gluten in them is appalling to me. While the measures they are taking that I mentioned in “The Encouraging News” should certainly help, I want more reassurance than General Mills is giving. They’re a big company. They are able to do that, but so far they are unwilling.
I strongly recommend that you read Tricia’s full update and original post here: Gluten-Free Cheerios Take Two
What are your thoughts on this new information from General Mills?