General Mills, manufacturers, according to their website, of 60 million servings of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, have been making Cheerios since 1941. Since 2000 they have expanded the range to include Honey Nut Cheerios, Berry Burst Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, Cheerios Snack Mix, Banana Nut Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Multigrain Cheerios – and now Multigrain Peanut Butter Cheerios.
Hardly surprisingly, this has sent tidal waves of concern through the peanut allergic community. They are not particularly worried about manufacturing contamination; General Mills are a massive operation and presumably have good allergen control systems in place.
What they are very concerned about is that toddlers, for whom Cheerios are a favourite snack, will not know or be able to distinguish a peanut butter Cheerio from an ordinary Cheerio. To quote Gina Clowes of Allergy Moms:
It has become the norm to have toddlers walking around with bags of cereal to snack on. Toddlers are notoriously messy eaters. It would be difficult to distinguish this variety from ones that are ‘safe,’ and one misplaced peanut butter Cheerio can cause a serious reaction.
Somehow, not only did this consideration not occur to anyone at General Mills when they were developing the products, but they seem to be entirely unable to grasp the point now either.
‘Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter contains PEANUTS’, they said in a statement in response to Gina Clowes’ enquiry. ‘Cheerios has a commitment to allergen management. We can say with complete confidence that Multi Grain Peanut Butter Cheerios will not cross-contaminate other Cheerios varieties…. As always, if you’re concerned about allergies, we highly recommend that you always consult the allergen listing and the ingredient label on any product you may consume.’ (Very helpful if you are toddler…)
Asked whether they would consider changing the packaging so that children could recognise that they were not their usual Cheerios, they merely repeated that ‘General Mills employs the most stringent allergen control practices in the industry.’ Not really quite the point…
What were they thinking of?
1. Why, for starters, did they think to produce a Peanut Butter version of a product which they must have known was popular with toddlers when everyone in America is aware that peanut allergy among small children is reaching epidemic proportions? Are there not plenty of other flavours they could have used?
2. If they had to be daft enough to produce a peanut butter version, why did they not pack it in a box that was quite different from the normal Cheerio box so that it could not be mistaken for the usual box by a young child?
3. And how can they continue to be so crass as to not recognise the concern that they are causing among the peanut allergic community?
I sincerely hope that no child does suffer an anaphylactic reaction to eating a peanut butter Cheerio by mistake, but if they do, its parents will know who to blame…