Citing “human error,” General Mills said Monday that it is recalling 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios produced at its plant in Lodi because cereals labeled gluten-free may contain wheat.
General Mills, based in Minneapolis, said the cereals being recalled were produced at the Lodi facility in July.
In a news release, the company said the recall was related to “an isolated incident (that) resulted in wheat flour being inadvertently introduced into the gluten-free oat flour system at its Lodi facility. As a result, the products may contain an undeclared allergen – wheat – in products labeled as gluten-free.”
General Mills said it will “recall and retrieve affected cereals produced on those dates from customer warehouses and store shelves.”
Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and other grains. It can cause health problems in people who suffer celiac disease and those who have wheat allergies or gluten intolerance. Gluten-free food products have been highly touted by food producers and marketers in recent years.
Jennifer Iscol, president of the Healdsburg-based Celiac Community Foundation of Northern California, said Monday that General Mills “was already in the hot seat in the celiac community for its gluten-free testing protocol. … It will have to answer some tough questions following this recall. … Celiac disease is a life-threatening autoimmune disease.”
Iscol said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating consumer complaints about General Mills labeling and gluten-testing procedures. She said the celiac disease community has been advocating that General Mills do more specific cereal box testing for gluten, as opposed to more general “batch” testing. She said “the fact that these boxes reached consumers” makes the case for more precise gluten testing in cereals, although she did say she was encouraged that General Mills was trying to introduce gluten-free products to the market.
Attempts to get comment from General Mills officials late Monday were not successful.
However, Jim Murphy, president of the cereal division, put up a post on the company’s “taste of General Mills” blog saying he was “embarrassed and truly sorry” to make the recall announcement.
Murphy said the Lodi 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.”
“We sincerely apologize to the gluten-free community and to anyone who may have been impacted,” Murphy added.
General Mills said its voluntary recall includes four days of production of original (yellow box) Cheerios, and 13 days of production of Honey Nut Cheerios.
General Mills said it is in the process of “transitioning” five varieties of Cheerios to gluten-free, including Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios and MultiGrain Cheerios. Consumers who want to request refunds or contact General Mills to ask other questions can call 800-775-8370; the company website is generalmills.com.
Raley’s was among the grocers serving the Sacramento region to begin pulling the recalled cereals off store shelves Monday.
Chelsea Minor , spokeswoman for the West Sacramento company, said it also began tracking possible customer purchases of the recalled cereals via Something Extra, the company’s customer loyalty and rewards program. Minor said Something Extra members found to have purchased the recalled cereals can expect an email or robocall, which will offer information and options.
“We tend to overcommunicate with customers when challenges like this come up, for reasons of health and safety,” Minor said.
Minor said Raley’s customers who purchased the recalled boxes should bring a receipt to a store to obtain a new box.
Shares of General Mills stock, which rose 60 cents to close at 57.22 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange, lost 20 cents in after-hours trading.
Mark Glover: 916-321-1184, @markhglover
The recalled products have “better if used by” code dates and the plant code “LD,” which indicates that the cereal was produced in Lodi.
- Here are the codes for the recall-designated Honey Nut Cheerios boxes: 12JUL2016LD, 13JUL2016LD, 14JUL2016LD, 15JUL2016LD, 16JUL2016LD, 17JUL2016LD, 18JUL2016LD, 20JUL2016LD, 21JUL2016LD, 22JUL2016LD, 23JUL2016LD, 24JUL2016LD and 25JUL2016LD.
- Here are the codes for the recall-designated, yellow-box Cheerios cereals: 14JUL2016LD, 15JUL2016LD, 16JUL2016LD and 17JUL2016LD.