By Stephanie Stahl

By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — General Mills has recalled 1.8 million boxes of Cheerios because the gluten-free cereal might be contaminated with wheat.

General Mills is voluntarily recalling classic Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, which are sold as gluten-free. 150,000 cases were found to be contaminated with wheat, which contains gluten.

Gluten-free is all the rage these days. Twenty million Americans have trouble eating products that contain gluten, so they rely on products like gluten-free Cheerios. The maker says the contamination was an isolated incident of human error at a plant in California.

Dr. Robin Rothstein, a gastroenterologist with Temple University Hospital, explains this is a significant problem for a lot of patients. She says millions of people can’t digest gluten, a protein found in wheat products.

“It not only can cause symptoms, but it can cause severe medical problems,” Dr. Rothstein said.

The severe reactions happen with celiac disease, where gluten can damage the small intestine.

“They may get iron deficiency, anemia. They may get osteoporosis. And one of the more scary things is that they actually are higher risk of having cancers like lymphoma,” Dr. Rothstein said.

A more common problem is people with a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. “They may get bloated. They may have diarrhea. They may get discomfort,”  Dr. Rothstein said. “They can also have complications from not being able to absorb the nutrients.”

Aside from the specific conditions, Dr. Rothstein says gluten-free diets don’t specifically help with weight loss, except in cases where people improve their eating habits.

“They may be eliminating a lot of the processed foods, a lot of the junk foods, and maybe they eat a healthier diet,” Dr. Rothstein said, “and in that way, that can help them lose weight.”

A letter from General Mills says the company is embarrassed and sorry and is instituting additional flour-handling protocols at all of their facilities to ensure contamination will not happen again.

Consumers who would like to request refunds or who have further questions can contact General Mills Consumer Services at 1-800-775-8370. More information is available on the company’s web site:


Stephanie Stahl