Peanut Butter Cheerios: Dangerous or Delicious?

Cheerios has just launched two new flavors of 0-shaped cereal, bringing the total number of varieties to 13, in case you missed the advent of Chocolate Cheerios, Cinnamon Burst Cheerios, Yogurt Burst Cheerios or Fruity Cheerios.

One of the new flavors, however, has caused the snack-traps to hit the fan: Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter. (The other new flavor, Dulce de Leche, seems only to have driven parents to distraction with the sound of its deliciousness.)  

Some parents of children with food allergies are concerned that this staple of American Kid food -- plain Cheerios are often one of the first foods that babies learn to pick up -- will for the first time contain peanuts. "People are very upset about it," Gina Clowes, founder of the support group Allergy Moms, told the Washington Post, adding that toddlers normally wander around with bags of the cereal. "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."

Rates of peanut allergy have tripled in recent years and all parents are affected, with sections of school lunch rooms (and even entire schools) designated as nut-free zones. This is, however, not the first Cheerio flavor to contain nuts: Currently, Honey Nut Cheerios, Banana Nut Cheerios and Oat Cluster Cheerios Crunch contain almonds. And many kids who are allergic to peanuts are also allergic to other tree nuts, such as almonds. General Mills states on its web site "Cheerios has a commitment to allergen management. We can say with complete confidence that Multi Grain Cheerios Peanut Butter will not cross-contaminate other Cheerios varieties."

While it's nerve-wracking for all parents that a traditionally "safe" food for allergic kids will now have a deadly doppelganger, nuts and nut-products can be hidden in everything from chili to granola bars -- and even nut-free foods might be manufactured in a facility that also processes nuts. Parents of affected kids are vigilant about what goes into their child's mouth. Yet the recent tragic story of seven-year-old Ammaria Johnson -- who is believed to have died at school because of an allergic reaction to peanuts that was not treated immediately -- shows the challenges these parents face.

But are Peanut Butter Cheerios in particular that much more of a threat than other foods? If Peanut Butter Cheerios are pulled from shelves to protect children with allergies, shouldn't other foods be removed as well? Where do we draw the line? Maybe what's needed is greater awareness about the threat of food allergies so that all parents -- not just those with allergies in their family -- can take proper precautions to help keep kids safe.

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