The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reportedly received at least 125 complaints from people who say they developed gastrointestinal problems from September on after eating what they thought were gluten-free Cheerios. General Mills Inc. just recalled 1.8 million boxes of gluten-free Cheerios and the company’s gluten-free Honey Nut Cheerios after finding out that the products, primarily made from oats, also contained wheat. All of the recalled products were made in July at the General Mills plant in Lodi, CA. The Cheerios recall covers four production days, while the Honey Nut Cheerios recall involves 13 production days. Jim Murphy, president of the Minneapolis-based company’s cereal division, released a statement Monday noting that he was “embarrassed and truly sorry” about the recall, and he went on to explain what had caused the problem. “Our Lodi production facility lost rail service for a time and our gluten-free oat flour was being off-loaded from rail cars to trucks for delivery to our facility on the dates in question. In an isolated incident involving purely human error, wheat flour was inadvertently introduced into our gluten-free oat flour system at Lodi. That error resulted in an undeclared allergen – wheat – being present in products labeled as gluten free at levels above the FDA gluten-free standard,” Murphy stated. He added that the company’s oat supply and oat flour being used at the Lodi plant were tested on the dates in question, and both were found to be gluten-free. General Mills is testing all finished products, Murphy stated, and has now added flour-handling protocols at all company facilities to make sure that this problem doesn’t happen again. “We sincerely apologize to the gluten-free community and to anyone who may have been impacted. We care deeply about making safe, nutritious, gluten free products more widely available, and we’ve worked very hard to ensure our products are gluten free. Today we must acknowledge that we failed to meet that commitment for a time, and we’re recalling all affected products as a result,” he stated. FDA noted that there are no reports of anyone being hospitalized or any deaths from Cheerios which were labeled gluten-free. Lab tests done by the agency revealed 43 parts per million of gluten in one sample of Honey Nut Cheerios. However, for a product to be labeled as gluten-free, it must contain no more than 20 ppm of gluten. An allergy or sensitivity to wheat and/or other grains containing gluten protein (rye, barley and triticale, which is a cross between wheat and rye) is estimated to affect 1 percent of the U.S. population. According to FDA, most people can eat gluten, but in people with chronic autoimmune celiac disease, gluten intake gradually damages the intestines, prevents the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and can lead to other health problems. Symptoms can include diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, abdominal pain, brain fog, rashes, nausea, vomiting, and other reactions.
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