Editor’s Note: This post, Are Cheerios Gluten-Free?, has been continuously updated to reflect changing information – especially in light of the recall of 1.8 million boxes of contaminated boxes in October 2015.
Updated 10-31-2017: The Canadian Celiac Association has pulled its endorsement of Cheerios in a statement:
“The Canadian Celiac Association (CCA) recommends that people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity DO NOT consume the gluten-free labeled Cheerios products at this time because of concerns about the potential levels of gluten in boxes of these cereals. The CCA is receptive to evaluating any additional information that General Mills is willing to disclose.”
You can read the full statement – and a list of the CCA’s concerns – here.
Early this year I heard grumblings that Cheerios would soon be gluten-free. I’m always thrilled when big companies work hard to make their brands healthier and more accessible to the special diet population. Even though celiacs (like me) only make up 1% of the population, 30% of the population follows or experiments with a gluten-free diet.
However, so much has come to light since Cheerios first marked their boxes as gluten-free in early 2015. And it’s all so confusing too.
Are Cheerios gluten-free and safe for celiacs? At first I thought, “Yes!”
The boxes are marked “gluten-free” and the Celiac Disease Foundation allows Cheerios to put its logo on each box. To me, it appears to be safe for celiacs and trusted for anyone on a gluten-free diet. However, I have learned that Cheerios is not following safety purity protocols to ensure its oats are safe for those with celiac disease… and therefore I cannot personally recommend you eat them.
Here’s why I think you should avoid Cheerios if you have celiac disease:
Cheerios Are Not Made With Certified Gluten-Free Oats. I’ve heard that gluten-free Cheerios are not made with certified gluten-free oats. This is true and has been quite concerning to me. The Gluten Free Watchdog says (as of August 11, 2015) that people with Celiac should NOT eat gluten-free Cheerios.
However, General Mills addresses this topic on its website, saying, “The first ingredient in Cheerios is whole-grain oats. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but the general oats supply comes with small amounts of wheat, rye and barley that are introduced at the farm and during transportation. We have created a process that allows us to remove the wheat, rye and barley from the oats we purchase, making Cheerios gluten-free.”
General Mills says it uses a cleaning system that optically and mechanically sorts oats from barley and wheat contamination. However, barley and wheat are similar in size, shape and color as oats, and there are often broken kernels present in the grain that make the sorting more challenging and cannot always be trusted.
General Mills Does NOT Use a Third-Party to Certify its Products as Gluten Free: Not sure why a company of this size would choose to self-regulate itself. As consumers, we have to know that companies shouldn’t be left to decide what we eat as they are not driven by health, they are driven by money.
It seems that Cheerios doesn’t want a third party gluten-free certification program to come in and supervise what it’s doing. Why not?
It’s a good question we should all be asking why a company of this size won’t let a certification program peek behind the curtains. By self regulating itself, 1.8 boxes of Cheerios became contaminated – that means either General Mills does not know what it’s doing, its hiding something, or it doesn’t care if it’s doing it right.
(IMPORTANT: The gluten-free stamp you see on the front of boxes of Cheerios is something General Mills designed itself – it is not a certification from a third-party gluten free certifying agency. Be a smart consumer!!)
Be Skeptical of the “Dedicated GF Facility” Claim. General Mills says on its website that it is using a dedicated gluten-free facility. But that doesn’t account for the contamination that might be presented from poorly sorted oats. Plus, how in the world did gluten get into 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios if the cereal is made in a dedicated facility??
Disclosure: Earlier this year Cheerios officials offered to send me some gluten-free Cheerios to try and I accepted. At first I was excited but after talking to others in the industry and in light of the 1.8 million boxes recalled, I needed to update this information to share my distaste with General Mills and the nagging feeling that they’re hiding something…