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This position statement may not be reposted without the express written permission of Gluten Free Watchdog, LLC.

***Note: What follows is the opinion of Gluten Free Watchdog. Whether or not you choose to eat Cheerios is your personal decision and you do not owe anyone an explanation. Please make decisions based on the totality of information available to you, including the position of Gluten Free Watchdog, the statement at the end of this post from General Mills, and Gluten Free Watchdog’s updated position statement on oats.***

BOTTOM LINE

General Mills has always been transparent with Gluten Free Watchdog about the protocols used for gluten-free Cheerios. And for this, we are truly appreciative. However, Gluten Free Watchdog cannot in good conscience recommend gluten-free Cheerios. This is due largely to the testing protocol followed by General Mills versus our recent test results. Because General Mills uses sorted oats*, testing protocols take on added importance as a benchmark of oat safety. We truly wish General Mills would adopt a testing protocol similar to the one followed by Quaker Oats, another manufacturer also using sorted oats in labeled gluten-free foods.

*Sorted oats are traditionally grown (standard) oats that undergo a mechanical and or optical screening at the mill to remove gluten-containing grain based on a variety of grain properties (e.g., size and color).

THE DETAILS

Test results:

Results from our 2021 spot testing are an improvement over 2015 spot testing for both Original and Honey Nut Cheerios.

Yellow box/Original Cheerios

  • 2021: No quantifiable gluten was found in the 3 boxes tested.
  • 2015: Over half of the extractions tested from 5 boxes contained quantifiable gluten at or above 5 parts per million.

Honey Nut Cheerios

  • 2021: One extraction from the 3 boxes tested contained quantifiable gluten at or above 5 parts per million.
  • 2015: One-third of the extractions tested from 2 boxes contained quantifiable gluten.

General Mills testing protocol: updated & reconfirmed on January 28, 2021

Bottom line: General Mills continues to use mean test results from a composite sample made up of sub samples taken from 12 to 18 boxes of cereal to determine if a lot (24 hour production cycle) is gluten-free.

Finished product testing

  • General Mills is producing gluten-free Cheerios using what they term “validated gluten-free flour.”
  • General Mills determines gluten-free status of a “lot” of oat flour via a lot mean.
  • Further, General Mills determines gluten-free status of a “lot” of gluten-free Cheerios via a lot mean.
  • In both cases, General Mills defines a “lot” as a 24-hour production cycle.
  • To arrive at a lot mean for gluten-free Cheerios, the following protocol is followed:
    • Twelve to eighteen boxes of cereal are pulled during a production cycle or “lot”.
    • The contents of each individual box are ground.
    • A sub-sample of ground product is taken from each box.
    • The sub-samples are composited—meaning they are combined.
    • The combined sub-samples are subject to additional grinding.
    • A minimum of six, 1-gram sample extractions are taken from this combined, ground sample.
    • Extractions are tested using the Ridascreen Total Gluten assay R7041.
  • All lots of oat flour and all lots of gluten-free Cheerios are placed on hold (not shipped) until gluten testing has verified that the lot is gluten-free. 
  • Any lot of flour and/or Cheerios not verified as gluten-free would not be used or shipped.

This testing protocol continues to baffle.When Gluten Free Watchdog sends Cheerios to the lab for testing, each individual box is tested separately. If a result from any given box comes back with quantifiable gluten, the lab can regrind the sample and test additional extractions and/or grind another sample from the same box for testing. This helps us assess the extent of cross contact within the box. If testing from General Mills reveals high results, they have no idea which box is to blame. Therefore it is not possible to test boxes produced around the same time as the box containing gluten.

It is genuinely curious why General Mills does not follow a testing protocol similar to the protocol followed by Quaker**. Quaker also uses standard oats that have been sorted to remove wheat, barley, and rye in their labeled gluten-free oatmeal.

**According to information provided to Gluten Free Watchdog and reconfirmed by Quaker on February 3, 2021:

  • Quaker grinds the contents of individual packets or cartons of oats.
  • Each individual ground packet/tube is tested in duplicate.
  • If any single extraction tests above 12 ppm the entire lot is discarded.
  • Quaker uses the formally validated Ridascreen Gliadin R5 ELISA (R7001) to test oats for gluten.

For more information about the process followed by Quaker, see https://www.glutenfreewatchdog.org/news/oats-revisited-quaker-gluten-free-oats/

Statement from General Mills (provided February 4, 2021):

We remain fully confident that our gluten free Cheerios comply with the FDA regulations of less than 20 parts per million of gluten. General Mills continues to execute an extremely robust finished product testing protocol where each and every lot of gluten free Cheerios products are rigorously tested to verify compliance with the FDA gluten free regulations.  This robust testing protocol is a confirmation of all the other work we are doing to ensure the final product is gluten free. Our purchasing requirements, mechanical sorting process of the oats and industry standard food safety programs are examples of steps we take to ensure that the final product is gluten free. On top of those steps, we grade the oats, test the oat flour and final product as well.  Our oat flour is not put into production until it is verified to be gluten free, and our gluten free Cheerios products are not released to customers until they too have been verified to be gluten free as a part of that robust testing program.

As we have stated in the past, there are not enough certified gluten free oats to meet Cheerios needs, they would last less than a month. Our sourcing team works hard to purchase oats as free from gluten containing grains as possible. But we know that even oats grown this way, and even certified gluten free oats, may contain stray grains and that is why we have a mechanical sorting process. All of our oats go through this mechanical sorting so that we can remove stray gluten containing grains.

Testing of the finished Cheerios is the final confirmation that the product is gluten free. We test every lot of final product, we test every lot of oat flour and we grade the oats before they are even run through our mechanical sorting machine. We have more than five years of testing data that supports our products are gluten free and this, along with every other step we take are the reasons we are confident in our gluten free Cheerios.

© March 8, 2021. Gluten Free Watchdog, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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