When ‘Gluten-Free’ is Forced into Mainstream News

It’s not often that the word “gluten” reaches mainstream news headlines, but that’s exactly what’s happening this week. General Mills on Monday announced its recall of an estimated 1.8 million boxes of its Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios cereals because wheat may have been inadvertently added to products labeled as gluten-free. It’s tough news for the company, and for those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance or wheat allergies who consumed the products, which General Mills rightly has warned not to eat. The company is working to recover the boxes of cereal involved; for details see the company news release.

Photo by Joe Raedle, Getty Images, accompanying the USA Today article.

We know it is not the first time a food item labeled “gluten-free” did in fact contain gluten. The term gluten-free has become, unfortunately, a sort-of buzzword for consumers craving a quick fix to their health concerns. It’s disappointing that Americans can be so attracted to new food trends or even fads, for desired quick results, rather than doing what really is needed to get into true health and healthy living. And that takes time, energy and focus, to not only eat better but treat your body better in terms of exercise. Yet, healthy eating trends – such as gluten-free, or even vegan, diets – have become catch phrases that corporations and marketers alike want to use to help products sell.

That’s where Cheerios comes in. The cereal is long-known for being among the healthier of breakfast cereal choices. Yet, General Mills still chose to add a “gluten-free” label, with hopes of attracting even more buyers for an already-popular item. Give credit to General Mills, though, for its timely and very public announcement of the error, which undoubtedly will be costly for the company. It was very up-front about the recall and reason – an incident involving “human error” at a production facility in Lodi, Calif. resulted in the introduction of wheat flour into the company’s gluten-free oat flour system – and it has been engaging with those contacting them in response.

Customers who purchased the cereal can call (800) 775-8370 for a full refund or replacement. But overall, not selling nearly 2 million boxes of cereal, labeled with “better if used by” dates of July of next year, is quite a blow to General Mills. What do you think?

For more information please see this blog post from Jim Murphy, president of General Mills’ cereal business.

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