Will the New Cheerios Really be Gluten-Free? I’m About to Find Out.

gluten free cheerios
Dude Update on 10/09/15: 1.8 million boxes of Gluten-Free Cheerios have been recalled on 10/06/15 due to 1) error 2) negligence and 3) lack of proper testing. It’s that last one that should bug the crap out of you. Read here for details.

[Dude note: See my follow up post from my Cheerios visit here: Gluten-Free Cheerios? Here’s the Deal.]

Just another week of celiac BS (and it’s only Wednesday!). We had a chef saying that our “gluten-free requests were met with the same enthusiasm as a genital herpes infection.” We had a waitress saying “most of the time you order something special, we bring you what we want and you never know the difference.” And lastly, there is a new video making the rounds that pokes fun at those eating gluten-free. Gee…how original.

But we’re gonna keep things positive today and talk about Cheerios. Yes…I said Cheerios.

Last month, General Mills announced that five of the Cheerios flavors will be officially gluten-free this summer. How will they be gluten-free when their main ingredient is oats and as we all know, unless you use certified gluten free oats, the risk of cross-contamination is extremely high (kind of like the state of Colorado these days)?

Darn good question.

GM says they are using a proprietary method that they have been working on for years that removes all traces of wheat, barley and rye from their cereal. Now the word “proprietary” usually sets off some alarm bells in my head. To understand the process a bit more, here’s a video that GM put together:

If you can’t see the above video, click here to view.

I love how they mention celiac disease in the video. It’s always nice when it gets the recognition it deserves.

My first question is simple: Why not just use certified gluten-free oats? I am assuming it’s a money thing as they say there will be no price change.

But the million dollar question is…will Cheerios truly be gluten-free?

The folks from GM state the following:
“The sorting process ensures that the oats in our Cheerios products are gluten free. The oats will be processed in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Production locations also ensure that no cross-contact can occur during manufacturing and/or packaging. All General Mills products labeled as “gluten free” meet the FDA standard.”

When it comes to celiac, I’m skeptical by nature…so yeah…I’m not quite sold on this. I’d need more info…a lot more info.

Well, low and behold, I’m heading to Minnesota next week to meet with the General Mills folks for two full days. Here’s the email I received:

Hi Gluten Dude. Your work within the gluten-free community caught our attention and we would like to invite you to participate in our gluten-free forum, an intimate group of gluten-free leaders meeting March 25-26 at the General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis.

As you may know, Cheerios announced their gluten-free initiative this year and the availability of Gluten Free Cheerios this fall. While making Cheerios available to everyone is our priority, we also recognize we have a lot to learn about what it is like living gluten free. For the future of Gluten Free Cheerios, we believe involving the gluten-free community in our process and launch is critical.

Forum participants will range from medical professionals, to celiac organizations, to gluten-free chefs. Beyond gathering a range of perspectives to help shape Gluten Free Cheerios, we want to hear how we can better meet the needs of the gluten-free community. What needs attention? Where could General Mills become involved? How can we help make your community stronger?

They are inviting 8-10 people to be a part of this so it’s pretty cool I was included.

I said I would come ONLY if I could share my experience with the community when I returned. I was met with silence at first and then they came back the next day and said I could share anything I wanted.

So just like Mary Richards, I am headed to Minneapolis for what should be an interesting experience.

Am I hesitant? A bit.
Will I eat the Cheerios while there? Not until I learn ALL about their methods.
Do I wish I could bring you all with me? Absolutely.

Here is what I need from you.

I would like to go in armed with questions for them. I’ve got my own list but would love to hear from you folks as well.

What concerns do you have? What would you like me to find out? Send me anything and everything you have.

I look forward to sharing my experience with you. Until then, I’ll be submersed in all things Cheerios.

are cheerios gluten free

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45 thoughts on “Will the New Cheerios Really be Gluten-Free? I’m About to Find Out.”

  1. I think its a volume issue why they can’t use certified gf oats. The volume they need to produce Cheerios by nature means there’s going to be more fields, and more fields means more potential for contamination.

    I would love to know what kind of testing methods they are using to determine that all the gluten is gone after their machines remove it. Is it done before running on the equipment that makes Cheerios o-shaped?

    Does their baking equipment used to make the Os make any other gluten cereals? Have they checked out if the coatings, frosting, and spices used to make the other flavors of Cheerios gluten free?

    GM feeds billions of people with their brands. Are they replacing the gluten or removing the gluten in any of their other products? They have a unique opportunity to bring food back to what it was pre-extra glutening from additives and such. Further, are they developing anything gluten free that is truly nutritious, as opposed to most gluten free products that consist of mostly white rice flour and are higher in sugar and fat than their gluten counterparts?

    Will they be developing any “new” gluten free products as opposed to replacements for existing products?

    I think that about sums it up for me! Good luck GD! I look forward to hearing what you find out!

    1. Stay away from gluten free cherrios if you have celiac disease!
      I had a bowl last night and got sick! You can read by researching gluten free watchdog I found out and I am very angry at GM! Getting all of our hopes up that they are making cherrios safe! No they are not, cleaning the grain and not doing correct testing, hello are you crazy!! Why not spend more money and get gluten free oats and get the celiac seal for safe eating so we don’t get sick! I think it’s going to be random where one box will make you sick and one won’t, but even if it’s not you will still get damage to small intestines every little bit adds up, I feel for small children who wanted Cheerios and the disappointment!! Shame on you GM!!

  2. Colette Sullivan - Ledoux

    Hi Gluten Dude,

    1. I would want to know if the nutritional content (not sure how nutritional the current product is), will change. So many of these new GF processed products are inferior to their gluten-laden cousins, as most have less fibre, and are higher in fats and sugars.

    2. I wonder if they will tell you what’s propelling them to produce these GF products. There’s no scientific evidence to back up the need for these products in the general population, and no long term data to see if those with no identifiable medical condition will be adversely affected by consuming them, so, does it boil down to profit?

    1. The nutritional content of their Chex and other cereals did not change, why would they change Cheerios? General Mills has recognized the need for mainstream gluten free products for many years, they own Progresso, Yoplait and many other companies that were on the forefront for GF labeling. They were the first to add GF mixes into grocery stores. They had a huge increase in the sale of Chex when they removed the malt flavoring and labeled them as GF. So if that increased their profits what is wrong with that? How would substituting molasses for malt flavoring have any adverse effect on any non gluten free person? And there are high up executives an the company with celiac children and also over the years when they have done marketing research, more GF options were the number one thing they have been asked for.

  3. My concern regarding Cheerios is the fact that are made from Oats…even if they are certified GF oats and made in a GF environment…the jury is still out whether or not Celiacs should eat oats at all. I know that I can’t…they do bother my stomach…and it is said that oats are such a close relative to wheat, that celiacs should be careful when eating them. I do use certified GF oats on rare occasions but am very careful when I do. Hope this is helpful. Would be nice to see Cheerios GF I guess for those who can eat them. Thanks

  4. This is great news – and I am crossing all my fingers and toes hoping that they are doing their homework to bring a truly safe GF cereal to market. In summer months when the strawberries are at the farmers markets, a bowl of classic honey nut Cheerios topped with fresh strawberries is the #1 gluten food I miss most, and would love to have that treat back in my life.

    From the farm perspective, I’d like to know their process for preventing cross pollination – how far will their oat fields be from any other type of wheat/rye/barley that could travel on wind, and contaminate the lot. Will the farm equipment used for harvest also be dedicated gluten free, and not previously used to harvest wheat/rye/barley?

    How will they test for gluten-free status, and how often will batches be tested?

    Will the GF cereals be rolled out nationally in September, or supplied to test markets first, and if the latter, which markets?

    So excited to hear your thoughts after the visit, and hoping for some confidence in the new line of GF Cheerios!

  5. Wow, ‘Dude, what a great opportunity! I’d like to know if they’re going to use non-GMO ingredients, or at least label it if GMO varieties are used. The high levels of pesticide residues on GMO crops are not good for anyone but are especially harmful to those of us with “tender” tummies.

  6. Hi Gluten Dude!

    I read your blog and follow your Facebook page, but I have never left a comment before, so here goes:

    As someone who was diagnosed with Celiac Disease at 7 years old, and who doesn’t remember the taste of Cheerios, I am ecstatic!

    I would love to know more about the process of removing the gluten and how they can be 100% sure this cereal will be gluten free.

    Are they going to be making ALL Cheerios gluten free from now on, or they are they adding a gluten free line to see how it goes first? I would also like to know the price point of these gluten free Cheerios. Will they be the same price (or close in price) to regular gluten Cheerios?

    If this goes well, do they see the possibility of adding other gluten free products to the line, such as the Cheerio breakfast bars?

    Thanks Gluten Dude!

  7. I love that General Mills is doing this – bringing in experts and gluten free community members before launching their product. I think it demonstrates a big company finally looking beyond the fad. I’m hoping there are good results from this, because I love Cheerios. Maybe you can put in a good word for gluten free Lucky Charms?

    While you’re in our fair city, you should check out Burning Brothers brewery. They have a great story and they did it for all the right reasons, too. I believe you have reviewed their beer before. Their facility is small, but nice. I love that they require people to wash their hands before entering on tour to prevent cross contamination.

    If you get a chance, Roat Osha is a Thai place in uptown Minneapolis that’s really good about gluten free diners. We also have had amazing experiences at Fogo de Chao in downtown Minneapolis. Even the table bread there is gluten free.

    Enjoy your time here in Minnesota!

  8. Hi Gluten Dude, my question is similar to Kathryn’s. Is there proprietary method a GMO method? If it is, please ask them to pour a glass of Round Up and drink it in front of you. They drench wheat crops right before harvest with Round Up to get a uniform yield…and it is probably clinging to the sticky gluten of the wheat. So, if you have guessed, I will not be interested in there proprietary product if it is achieved by GMO’s or pesticide application. Thank you!

    1. Sorry about the spelling errors, autocorrect at work! Feeling off this week, so I am a little feisty. Glad you will participate in this event.

  9. my question is why they are developing a proprietary method of removing gluten? Is GM planning on selling this method once it’s “perfected”? Is $$ their motive? I mean, I understand wanting to make $$ and if they can make money while doing something that in turn helps me, I’m all for it.

  10. Is the video above how they are going to market it? I think it would go a long way for them to market the GF Cheerios similar to the video above advising that they are not doing it for the money but rather for the inclusion of those of us that have Celiac Disease.

    Also, I also was wondering how they will do the testing to ensure its GF, as well as, when/how these tests will be available to the public.

    I have two small children who I think would love Cheerios but I keep them with the Chex and GF Fruity/Choc Pebbles so I don’t have to buy a million boxes of cereal. I’m excited but also leary of this!

  11. Is the video above how they are going to market it? I think it would go a long way for them to market the GF Cheerios similar to the video above advising that they are not doing it for the money but rather for the inclusion of those of us that have Celiac Disease.

    Also, I also was wondering how they will do the testing to ensure its GF, as well as, when/how these tests will be available to the public.

    I have two small children who I think would love Cheerios but I keep them with the Chex and GF Fruity/Choc Pebbles so I don’t have to buy a million boxes of cereal (as I have celiac and the only other one that eats cereal). I’m excited but also leary of this!

  12. Glad you will be there representing all of us. I’d like to know who else will be sitting in the panel with you. Will there be a transcript of the discussion available to the public?

    Thanks for all you do!

  13. I am shocked by all the negative comments about GF Cheerios on many of the sites. But I guess I shouldn’t be. As a dietitian in a low income county I work with many celiac patients on very low budgets and having mainstream grocery store products such as Chex cereal, Progresso soups, Yoplait yogurt that General Mills owns and produces has been very beneficial to many people. General Mills has been gradually taking the gluten out of many products and does not place the GF label on them until they are sure they are not being cross contaminated (example: Kix which contains no gluten but is not labeled as such) The gluten free Watchdog has tested their products and found no problems. They have been listening to gluten free bloggers and mainstream customers for many, many years have have celiac employees and family members. Why would they develop their new system? They use a ton of oats in making Cheerios and they would never have enough certified GF oats. Whys should they give their system away so other cereal companies can profit? Are people really naive enough to think that a company is not trying to make a profit. Just because they want to make a profit does not mean that is all they are interested in. Not all celiacs tolerate oats, if so you should not try Cheerios. It will not change the nutrition content for non celiac people.

  14. Congratulations for being selected, and thanks for representing us on the panel!

    While I think it’s a good effort on their part, for those of us who can’t tolerate oats, it’s not much of a help, but hooray for Cheerios and cereal lovers who can eat oats!

    I would be interested in knowing if the GF Cheerios will have less than 20 parts per million and will be processed on separate equipment. Also, I have read that Cheerios supplies their “imperfect” Cheerios to brands like Trader Joe’s and other store brands. Will they be continuing that with the GF Cheerios as well?

    1. If they label it as gluten-free, it will have to be below 20ppm, but according to something I read on Gluten Free Watchdog, they have not released their test results. They have only verified that the GF Cheerios will be below 20ppm.

  15. Congrats for being selected!

    My question, out of pure curiosity: will cheerios sold/made in other countries become gluten free as well? Or is it a US-only thing?

  16. Awesome questions! Don’t need to add much, just wondering if the gf product will be available in Canada and if their product will be compliant with Canadian standards. Have fun, look forward to what you learn.

    1. Our current Canadian food labelling laws forbid any oat-bearing product to be sold with a gluten-free claim. As far as gluten goes, Canada treats oats as though they were say, rye or barley. Current practice is to sell certified oats as “wheat-free”, and since our laws make gluten disclosure mandatory, consumers are left to conclude for themselves — based on the absence of rye or barley in the ingredient list — that the product really is GF.

      It should be noted however, that Canadian authorities announced several months ago that they intend to update this aspect of food labelling laws to allow certified oats to carry a gluten-free claim as is currently the case in the USA.


      If these Cheerios are sold in Canada before this change can be enacted, they will be sold with only a wheat-free claim.

  17. Which consumers does GM hope will buy their GFios? Since GF is now a fad among the general population, what percentage of sales does GM expect will come from Celiacs or others with a gluten intolerance? What percentage do they expect will be other reasons. I note that GM says theri GFios will not cost extra, as most GF processed foods do.

    Second, I’d like to know how many ppm GM expects their product to reach? FDA uses the 20ppm in the US, but countries like Australia have a lower threshold. Will Aussie GFios have a lower ppm?

  18. I can’t eat oats so I have no intention of trying the GF Cheerios, but I do have a few questions to add to your thought processes about them:
    One, does this ‘proprietary process’ take place in the same facility as the cereal is produced? If not, what else happens at the facility where this process takes place? If so, how is it safely segregated from the cereal production area?
    What do they do with the ‘contaminated’ product that is removed? And what percentage of their raw material are they finding needs to be removed?
    Is their goal just to meet labeling laws or are they attempting to make a product that goes above and beyond what is required? How do they test and are they willing to release their results?
    Is the serving size the same on the GF version as it is on the regular version?
    Are there additional ingredients added to the GF version or is the only difference that the oats have been through the ‘proprietary process’?

    BTW, this is awesome that they have asked you to be there! If they have read your blog and want you to be there, they must have a tremendous amount of confidence in what they are doing!

  19. I think a lot of good questions have been asked here, I have nothing to add… except, this whole thing just screams ‘Omission’ beer to me. Having ‘gluten removed’ using their own methods that they don’t necessarily want to divulge does not sit well with me. I’m not convinced. However, I’m looking forward to what you have to say when you come back, I most certainly trust your gut instincts.

    1. I was thinking Omission right off the bat, too. But it seems to be a physical removal process rather than Omission’s chemical/enzymatic one, for whatever that’s worth; my instinct would be the latter is more likely to mess up. My understanding is that the ELISA testing on the Omission product doesn’t detect the broken down remnants of the gluten proteins that can linger in the beer, for which the science still seems unsettled as to whether these remnants are safe to ingest for those who need GF.

      It seems what GM is doing doesn’t involve or create any of these gluten by-products that are poorly understood as to their safety, so if this is the case then the ELISA testing should accurately reflect the safety of these Cheerios. If they’re satisfying the 20ppm spec with every batch, it will probably be fine for many GFers but like any other product that satisfies only the weakest of sanctioned safety thresholds, I doubt it will suit everybody.

  20. i am hoping that the flavor will be the same (or really close) to original Cheerios. I miss them! I was diagnosed with celiac disease 3 years ago and tried another brand of “o” cereal, but ended up throwing the box out because it tasted nothing like the real thing.

  21. Love your graphic “submerged in cheerios” and your integrity in only going if you can write about your experience with full disclosure. You are making a difference in the GF world and so I am thrilled that you’re being included in this round table. I know you will be the voice of integrity there an look forward to hearing all about your experiences at this meeting/unveiling. Prayers are with you! Thanks for all you do!

  22. General Mills has a web page where many of the questions above have been answered. The Cheerios products that are going to be packaged as gluten free are identified:

    “Q: Which Cheerios products are going gluten-free?
    A: Yellow Box Cheerios™, Honey Nut Cheerios™, MultiGrain Cheerios™, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios™ and Frosted Cheerios™ will all be going gluten-free by early September. Packages that are gluten-free will be labeled with a seal.”

    They go on to say that only the multigrain product will have a new recipe: “Instead of wheat and barley, Multi Grain Cheerios™ will now have sorghum and millet along with the corn, rice and oats it has always had.” Except for the multigrain product, the nutrition values and flavor would of course be the same.

    Their approach is different from that used by Omission and other gluten-removed products. They say “We have created a process that allows us to remove the wheat, rye and barley from the oats we purchase …”. I’d love to know the details of that, but I’d guess it depends on differences in grain size and color, differences in density of the grains, and any other differences that can be exploited to efficiently sort the incoming grain. Again I’m guessing, but optical sorting is probably at least part of the process. Optical sorting is already in use for various grains, seeds, etc.; one company claims their equipment goes back to 1947. It’s used on rice, various crop seeds, coffee, spices, etc.

    As far as GMO issues go, that concern seems to be overblown. If you look around on the internet, you’ll find that General Mills has been criticized(!) for claiming their Cheerios are GMO free, because all they did was change to use GMO-free cornstarch and sugar. Even the critics agree that there are no GMO oats, and therefore General Mills shouldn’t get a lot of credit for switching to non-GMO for a couple of minor ingredients.

    It will be interesting to find out what they say about testing– what process they are using, whether they will make any of the results public, how thorough will they be.

    If we can trust them to make GF Rice Chex, it seems reasonable to expect they’ll be responsible about GF Cheerios. But I go along with the maxim “trust, but verify”. Thanks, Gluten Dude, for taking the opportunity to try to verify.

  23. It’s been more than eight years since I’ve had Cheerios, and I’ve survived just fine without them. When I have a desire for round cereal I eat Nature’s Path O’s cereal. When I have a desire for something oaty, I eat Only Oats oatmeal (I’m Celiac but can tolerate oats without problem).

    So then General Mills, given that I have lasted eight years without Cheerios, and have perfectly good substitutes for my round and oat cravings (from highly reputable gluten-free manufacturers), why should I eat your gluten free Cheerios? Please convince me.

  24. Gluten-free watchdog posted about cheerios and the “proprietary process”. She is similarly sceptical (and I imagine she will likely do some testing when these come out). Might be helpful in formulating some questions about their testing:


    My personal question based on this would be how often they will be doing testing, whether it will be on the ingredients or the finished product, and what steps they will take if a batch of products, or even a whole batch of ingredients tests positive for gluten.

  25. Is this the first oat-based General Mills product to use this procedure to make it gluten-free? Are there others already being sold or also in the works?

    One might consider these Cheerios to be “gluten-removed” instead of gluten-free, akin to Omission beer, although in fairness it seems in this case the removal process seems to be not enzymatic or chemical in nature as per what omission does but more of a physical process, almost akin to the way one might hand-sort through a bag of lentils. I wonder if this is a valid comparison?

    Would the Gluten Intolerance Group ever entertain allowing these Cheerios to bear their Gluten-Free Certification (assuming GM could satisfy their 10ppm spec)? GM may not be willing or able to answer that, so perhaps you could simply ask them whether they have approached GIG for such certification or have any plans to do so and what outcomes if any have resulted so far. I suspect it will simply satisfy the broader 20ppm requirement as they clearly indicate their plans to maintain the price of the product, so the GIG issue would be a non-starter here. I would expect a higher price for a 10ppm (GIG sanctioned) product, such as one might buy from Nature’s Path.

    Having mentioned “gluten-removed”, exactly what product are they starting from in their gluten removal process? Are they simply just removing wheat kernels (and perhaps other by-products) from a batch of non-GF oat groats (steel-cut or rolled?) before they machine the purified output into oat flour? Or are they starting from cross-contaminated oat flour and somehow purifying that ingredient? I’d feel more confident if they were purifying the groats first before grinding it into flour.

  26. “The sorting process ensures that the oats in our Cheerios products are gluten free.”

    Dry beans are washed during processing. There is a warning about beans containing small stones and pebbles it the bag despite being cleaned during processing. (Kidney beans, chickpeas, navy beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, even lentils have the stone warning.) Cleaning is conducted using a variety of methods that include gravity separators, sifters, sieves, aspirators, destoners and color sorters. IN fact, other things often make it into the bag of dry beans including insects and dirt. The “cook” should carefully inspect the beans to ensure that no no-food items have been missed during processing. These items are to be removed by sight prior to cooking.

    If things large enough to SEE make it into the “finished” product on a shelf, why should Celiac’s trust GM’s washing processes about things too small to see? The consequences are much more serious than breaking a tooth or having a bit of grit in a meal.

  27. Can you ask them if this is just the american market that cheerios are going gluten free? Because cheerios are pretty much a worldwide cereal, I live in england so it would be good if it was.

    1. Hey josh

      I’d be kinda confident, but not 100%. Have you tried the new Nestle cornflakes/honey roasted flakes? They’re certified by the UK Coeliac society.

      1. Yes I have, I saw them at the supermarket a couple of days ago, they’re very good, its such a shame they seem to put malted barley into every non-wheat based cereal, if they didn’t we would have so much more variety in our cereals!

        1. I wonder if the whole barley-malt-on-cereal thing as much for aesthetics as anything else?

          The first time I bought Nature’s Path GF corn flakes, I noticed right away that they look much different from the Kellogg’s variety I was used to. Nobody would have any trouble at all telling them apart already poured into bowls.

          The Kellogg’s flakes have somewhat of a glossy surface that is lacking in the NP variety, which have no lustre to their surface; it’s more of a flat, matte finish, if you will. Does this difference come from the barley malt? Do they add it to the Kellogg’s brand to make them shinier and presumably better looking?

          1. I’ve no idea. I’ll just say this much – i’m living in Ireland but we get more or less the same products you folks do in the UK, though somtimes a bit later. The Nestle flakes are the start of the revolution. I can see our US pals are agonising about whether General Mills are serious about GF Cheerios, but if the Nestle attitude in the UK/Ireland is anything to go by (getting certified as GF, rather than just making a spurious claim) this is now the time where Kelloggs need to up their game. Nestle GF flakes are as cheap, if not cheaper than regular cornflakes. that’s a game changer! 🙂

  28. I would like you to ask this: What is the lowest level of PPM can they test for? In any testing, you need to be able to test at least one order of magnitude below the level you are testing. For instance, if testing for 20 PPM, their test must be able to measure down to 2 PPM to ensure accuracy.

  29. My daughter does not have Celiac Disease, instead she has multiple food allergies to include wheat, barley, and rye. Will these be safe for someone with food allergies instead of food sensitivities or allergies?

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