Yesterday General Mills recalled 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios due to undeclared wheat. According to General Mills, "In an isolated incident involving purely human error, wheat flour was inadvertently introduced into our gluten-free oat flour system at Lodi." You can read the entire Class I product recall press release here.
According to the FDA website, a Class I recall is "Dangerous or defective products that predictably could cause serious health problems or death. Examples include: food found to contain botulinum toxin, food with undeclared allergens, a label mix-up on a lifesaving drug, or a defective artificial heart valve."I am livid by this whole situation. First and foremost, General Mills put wheat flour into a product that was supposed to be gluten-free. Period. WHEAT IS NOT GLUTEN-FREE. This is gluten and celiac disease 101. How did "human error" allow for enough wheat flour to be introduced into the production process to affect 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios? Did not one single person notice trucks with wheat entering the facility??
I have SO much to say about this topic and honestly am so angry by the whole thing. If you follow me on Twitter, you will see I have not kept quite about this nor will I. This is very serious. If 1% of the population has celiac disease and 1.8 million boxes have been recalled, this means that 18,000 people with celiac disease could have been affected by this recall. Add on top of that people with wheat allergies, non-celiac sensitivities, and anaphylaxis reactions to wheat and the numbers of the potentially affected could continue to grow to tens of thousands.
Here are my Top 10 Reasons I Am Livid at General Mills
All screenshots below either come from the General Mills blog, the Cheerios Facebook page, or the press release. My apologies to Mr. Kevin Hunt who unfortunately is the spokesperson in this mess. Don't shoot the messenger!
- General Mills has divided the celiac community. Our celiac disease community is small compared to other health communities, but we have strong voices. When something like this happens, the opinions and nasty comments start flying. Our community becomes an "Us" vs "Them" society. There are those of us who were upset about the gluten-free Cheerios to begin with and those who became "Cheerios Cheerleaders." My first blog post ignited some VERY strong emails and comments. I was practically in tears with some of the emails people were writing me telling me off for talking poorly about their beloved Cheerios. I was reporting facts based on my phone call yet people didn't want to hear the truth. I then saw other celiac bloggers start to publicly bash one another on Twitter and Facebook. These are people that I respect(ed) blatantly hurting other celiacs with nasty words and accusatory statements. During a time where we should be banding together to help each other, General Mills hurt our community more than just with wheat. GM divided us when we need to be united.
- Testing for gluten is obviously not being done properly or at all. When I spoke to the GM PR/marketing team on September 15th, they told me that gluten-free Cheerios were tested "multiple times" throughout the production process including at the end of the process. How did 1.8 million boxes leave the GM facility without testing? If the wheat flour was introduced at the beginning of the production cycle, how did these boxes make it all the way to the end without ever being tested? The GM PR team admits the finished 1.8 million boxes were not tested.
- This is not an isolated incident. This Cheerios recall is a NATIONAL RECALL. The Cheerios in question were produced in Lodi, California but distributed nationwide. There is a lot of misinformation out there in the gluten-free social media world saying this is only a recall for Cheerios sold in California. This is not true. The recalled Cheerios products were shipped across the country!
- People have reported having gluten reactions to Cheerios, yet GM denied this claim. During my 9/15 call when I asked about the reports of people having a gluten reaction to Cheerios, the PR team told me that people were either reacting to the increased fiber in their diet or the oats themselves. Yesterday's recall explicitly reported that wheat was present in 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios. Yet, General Mills continues to use oat intolerance or other dietary restrictions as an excuse as to why people are getting sick despite admitting to wheat present in their product.
- General Mills had a very slow response time to reports of illness. While I understand that on Sunday, testing confirmed the presence of gluten and the recall was issued within 24 hours. What I don't understand is that people have been reporting a gluten-type response to Cheerios for about a month now and General Mills only addressed those concerns this week. What took so long?
- General Mills is embarrassed. Shitting your pants is more embarrassing. During one of my absolute worst glutening episodes about 7 years ago, I was so sick that I was vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time. I was so violently ill that I had to crawl to the bathroom and during that crawl, my body was rejecting the gluten from every single orifice possible. Here I was a grown woman writhing in pain on the floor and not even able to make it to the toilet. I was that sick and it was awful. Now imagine 1.8 million people with celiac disease having a similar reaction or even worse. It is beyond embarrassing, it is downright mortifying. Don't tell me you are embarrassed Mr. Jim Murphy until you have crawled a mile in my glutened shoes.
- General Mills violated the trust of the celiac community. Read any of the Cheerios responses on their Facebook page. They know they lost the trust of many thousands of people with celiac disease. They admit this over and over again. I believe they have lost a LOT of customers due to this recall.
- How did General Mills clean up after this mistake? I posted this to the Cheerios blog but my question hasn't been answered yet. If GM had enough wheat flour to affect 1.8 million boxes of cereal, how did they clean the facility to ensure this would not happen again? I want to know how Cheerios and General Mills were able to clean away the wheat flour in their facility.
- What happened to the gluten-free trucks? During my call on 9/15, I was told that General Mills used dedicated gluten-free rail cars or trucks to transport the oat flour and the product. According to this press release, the rail cars at the Lodi facility were unavailable and flour was being off-loaded into trucks. Would use of the dedicated gluten-free trucks have avoided this recall? We may never know!
- Cheerios made people sick. End of story. Celiac Disease is not a joke and autoimmune reactions to gluten can be severe. It is inexcusable that so many people have reported illness due to eating Cheerios. Whether General Mills did a recall or not, they need to take ALL reports of reaction very seriously and not just from the batches of contaminated product made in Lodi.
If you believe you became ill after eating Cheerios, FDA is asking that you contact FDA’s MEDWATCH, the Adverse Event Reporting System. You can do this online https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/medwatch/index.cfm?action=reporting.homeor via phone (800) 332-1088. Choose option #4 to speak to a representative.