The Food and Drug Administration said it is reviewing reports of stomach disorders that may be linked to lucky charm cereal.
Although the agency hasn’t issued a formal warning, many people have reported feeling sick after consuming the breakfast cereal in posts on the consumer safety website iwaspoisoned.com.
As of April 1, more than 1,000 people across the US have posted about gastrointestinal symptoms they believe are associated with good luck charms, according to Patrick Quade, the site’s founder and CEO. Quade said it was the largest spate of reviews on a single product he’d seen on the site.
Many of the reports mention related symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and green stools.
“The FDA is aware of the reports and is reviewing the matter. The FDA takes seriously any reports of possible adulteration of a food item, which may also cause illness or injury,” said an FDA official.
Racquel Ashman, who lives in Georgia, said she and her 7-year-old daughter Olivia recently became ill after consuming Lucky Charms. Olivia got a headache and stomach ache on March 29th, one day after eating the cereal.
“She was throwing up everywhere. It was a mess. She had diarrhea. She complained of convulsions,” Ashman said.
At first, Ashman said she didn’t connect her daughter’s illness to the cereal. Then, on Saturday, she ate lucky charms from the same box.
“When I woke up on Monday I felt absolutely horrible,” she said. “I had stomach cramps. It literally felt worse than my contractions. I was very confused. I had to vomit. I couldn’t keep anything down at all. I also had diarrhea.
The timing of their illnesses and the overlapping symptoms led Ashman to conclude that the cereal was likely making both her and Olivia ill. She posted about it on iwaspoisoned.com.
The website allows anyone to report symptoms and note where they think the disease originated. Posts are reviewed and curated, but not examined individually. Iwaspoisoned.com is one of several crowdsourcing sites owned by parent company IWP Health Inc.
Quade said he first noticed an unusual spike in reports of good luck charms in July 2021, and the number of reports has remained above average since then.
“This definitely warrants further investigation to quickly see what’s actually going on here because something is definitely wrong,” said Martin Bucknavage, a senior associate in food safety at Penn State University.
But General Mills, the maker of Lucky Charms, said it doesn’t believe the grain is the cause of the stomach problems.
“Food safety is our top priority. We take consumer concerns reported through a third-party website very seriously. After a thorough internal investigation, we have found no evidence that these complaints are attributed to our products,” General Mills spokesman Andrea Williamson said. “We encourage consumers to share any concerns directly with General Mills to ensure they can be addressed appropriately.”
The FDA has yet to confirm that good luck charms caused a foodborne illness.
The FDA has its own reporting systems for food safety issues, but the agency said it has counted only 41 reports related to good luck charms since 2004, and only three in 2021.
The FDA’s Food and Cosmetics Information Center, which is responsible for answering questions about food safety, has not received any calls related to good luck charms, the official said. The FDA declined to provide further details about its investigation.
It’s possible that some of the abdominal problems are just caused by the norovirus, the causative agent of the stomach flu Data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests Outbreaks are on the rise since January.
Bucknavage said it was unusual for cereal to be linked to so many reports of stomach problems. Although a full FDA or CDC investigation would be needed to determine the root cause, he speculated that chemical contamination could be a possibility. That’s because some reports on iwaspoisoned.com say symptoms started appearing within hours of consuming good luck charms. Bacteria such as Salmonella or E. coli usually only cause illness 24 to 48 hours after entering the body.
However, Ashman said she didn’t get sick right away and her symptoms lasted for several days, consistent with a bacterial infection, Bucknavage said.
Ashman returned to work on Wednesday after two days of sick leave.
“I just physically couldn’t even hold my phone or sit at my computer long enough to do anything productive,” she said, adding, “It was the worst week of my life in a while.”