UPDATE: A spokeswoman from General Mills, the company that makes Cheerios, responded with the following statement:
“Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter contains PEANUTS. Cheerios has a commitment to allergen management. We can say with complete confidence that MultiGrain Peanut Butter Cheerios will not cross-contaminate other Cheerios varieties.
“Currently, Honey Nut Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios, and Oat Cluster Cheerios Crunch contain ALMOND. Only Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter contains PEANUTS.
All other varieties, including original Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Cinnamon Burst Cheerios, Frosted Cheerios, Fruity Cheerios, and Yogurt Burst Cheerios, do not contain nuts.
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.”
I asked the spokeswoman, Melissa Levy, further questions — including whether General Mills had or would consider changing the appearances of the new Cheerios so that children might know the difference. She e-mailed a reply re-stating that the company “employs the most stringent allergen control practices in the industry.”
I called Levy and left a voicemail asking her again about the issue of children’s perceptions. I am awaiting a reply and will update when I hear from her.
ORIGINAL POST: Cheerios has just launched a new flavor — peanut butter — and the reaction in some homes has not been what the company might have expected.
“People are very upset about it,” said Gina Clowes, founder of Allergy Moms, a national support group.
“I know some allergy families that currently buy Cheerios are vowing not to buy them at all for fear of cross contact while processing and to avoid confusion in their own homes.”
It seems that although the new flavor’s box makes it clear that these are a new kind of Cheerios, the cereal itself is hard to distinguish from the original. Especially troubling to parents is that Cheerios are so often carted in baggies by toddlers — toddlers who share them freely and will likely not know the difference.
“It has become the norm to have toddlers walking around with bags of cereal to snack on,” Clowes said. “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.”
I called the Cheerios media relations staff and am awaiting a reply.
Many parents who do not have an allergy-suffering child might roll their eyes at the concern. But allergies can be terribly severe.
Just last week, a Virginia first-grader died after a friend shared a peanut with her on the playground.
A well-regarded national study published in the journal Pediatrics this past summer estimated that 8 percent of children — that’s 5.9 million kids — suffer from food allergies.
The report also found that close to 40 percent of those children suffer severe reactions.
Though it remains unclear why the food allergies have spread and intensified in recent years, any parent of an allergy-sufferer knows that weathering a child’s food sensitivities is frightening terrain.
Given the modern ubiquity of allergies, do manufacturers of children’s food have an extra responsibility to be sensitive to food allergies?
If so, how?