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Posted in Our Blog on May 14, 2021
The two words, “cereal” and “shrimp” should never be in the same sentence. Unless you are feeding cereal to your pet shrimp. Memories of the long dead Sea Monkeys I dutifully fed and monitored in elementary school come to mind. R.I.P. Monkey School. But at no point would you expect a crustacean in your breakfast cereal. Expectation and reality can be very different things. Want to hear about the Captain Crunch Shrimp debacle?
If you have followed any of the recent social media or news sources, I am sure you have heard of “Shrimp-Gate” scandal and ongoing saga.
Shrimp Found in Cereal Sparks Twitter Battle
One consumer was unpleasantly surprised to find such a contaminant in what, unfortunately, was NOT his first bowl of cereal from said package. Shrimp, along with what appears to be rodent droppings and a piece of string were pictured in a string of tweets from the customer, Jensen Karp, that began with:
“Ummmm @CTCSquares – why are there shrimp tails in my cereal? (This is not a bit)” – Jensen Karp 12:32 PM · Mar 22, 2021
Anyone with a set of eyes can clearly see that there are shrimp tails in this image. Of course, there are so many different scenarios in which shrimp may be pictured among the cinnamon coated squares.
It could have occurred at the manufacturing plant. It could have occurred during distribution or at the grocery store. Perhaps in the consumers home. Sadly, sometimes people even stage these types of events for attention or hoping to make a quick buck from a settlement from a huge company, like General Mills (makers of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal). So it is somewhat understandable that the social media rep tasked with managing these responses did not immediately take blame.
General Mills Responds with Denial
But what they said in response is quite troubling. There wasn’t a question of where the shrimp may have made it into the package or that they will be looking into the matter, but an outright denial of the presence of the shrimp after “further investigation with out team that closely examined the image.”
“We assure you that there’s no possibility of cross contamination with shrimp.”
No possibility? Those definitely look like shrimp to me. And I was not alone. The twitterverse blew up. Apparently, others on social media have eyes and saw the same thing as I did. The same thing Mr. Karp saw. Shrimp tails where shrimp tails should not be.
Lab Tests Will Identify Alleged Contaminant
Karp has approached and been approached by several scientific institutions to have the specimens tested, both the alleged shrimp tails and rodent droppings (the later completely ignored by General Mills).
A New Jersey-based company is testing the black substances Karp fears might be rat poop and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County are setting him up with a company that pledges to pay for DNA testing on the alleged shrimp tails.
Soon Karp, and if shared on his preferred platform, Twitter, will know whether what appears to be shrimp and rodent dropping is truly what the eyes tell us, or some clumped “accumulation of the cinnamon sugar.” Time will tell.
New General Mills Response Indicates Ongoing Investigation
After what we can only assume was a cursory walk through the plant and many meetings with legal and press advisors, it appears that General Mills finally started to back pedal. Not taking responsibility – but at least making a show that they are actually investigating the issue. General Mills’ official response was:
General Mills indicates that they wish to perform their own testing (Karp indicated he would sent part of the specimens to them – but would be retaining some for his own research), and issued a call for information.
I am curious if other “evidence” will circulate the social media sphere as this story develops.
The Big Picture
As a food safety writer, a few things screamed at me while following this story. I believe General Mills has missed the big picture in this story.
First and foremost, shellfish allergies are real and can be deadly. A child serving themselves may not notice a shrimp tail floating among their cereal pieces and a parent would not think to monitor a food that clearly should not contain the allergen. This is a very scary hypothetical scenario, but one I am sure many parents to allergic children are thinking of too.
Second, this grouping of detritus lends to a rodent infestation. A likely conclusion (that would need to be investigated) is that some happy little critter made a home in an ingredient (possibly the sugar mixture) that was added during the coating process.
According to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education) at FoodAllergy.org, 32 million Americans have some kind of food allergy. This constitutes 1 in 10 adults and 1 in 13 children. There are around 200,000 cases in which emergency medical care for allergic reactions to foods nationwide each year.
While more than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions, crustacean shellfish are among the top eight major food allergens along with other biggies such as milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, fish, and soy.
Common symptoms of allergic reactions to food can range from the mild itchy mouth or a few hives to severe that include throat tightening and difficulty breathing. Anaphylaxis, the more severe reaction, is a serious reaction that is sudden and can cause death.
While severe or fatal food allergic reactions can occur at any age, teenagers and young adults with food allergies are at the “highest risk of fatal food-induced anaphylaxis.” This happens to be the age range that the now infamous Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal appeals to.
Bottom line… Should General Mills have taken the posted image of shrimp tails more seriously? Even though it could possibly be a publicity stunt from a somewhat famous music personality married to a 90’s television star actress?
In a perfect world, yes. They could have still performed the behind the scenes due diligence as I am sure they are doing now; however, the initial denial response leaves a seed of doubt in consumer minds. Will this result in a recall? Check our recall page often for an up to date list of food recalls at https://www.makefoodsafe.com/food-recalls/.
By: Heather Van Tassell