Something Stinky About Kellogg’s Serial Recalls

On Friday, world’s largest cereal producer Kellogg’s announced a recall of 28 million boxes of sugary Apple Jacks, Fruit Loops, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks “due to an uncharacteristic off-flavor and smell coming from the liner in the package.” (see the full recall list, below)

Late on Friday is the ideal time for companies to announce recalls, since reporters are gone for the weekend and Saturday is the least-read day for newspapers. So it’s no surprise that Kellogg’s waited to report the problem-even though they acknowledged that the problem was occurring “in the next several months” following the first use of the smelly liners in March, and that they identified a “pattern of complaints” on Wednesday.

The media dutifully reported that the recalls were due to a bad smell and taste, despite Kellogg’s admission that the pattern they identified is that 5 of 20 reported complaints include cereal eaters who suffered nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

In other words, the recall is actually in response to cereal that can make people sick.

Kellogg’s company statement says that “We have identified a substance in the package liners that can produce an uncharacteristic waxy-like off taste and smell.” This sounded to me (and to other publications and to others here who read it) like Kellogg’s knew the compound that was causing the problems.

So I called Kellogg’s and asked if they could tell me the name of the substance they’ve identified. Corporate spokesperson Adaire Putnam told me they hadn’t identified it.

Confused, I said, your statement says you have. No it doesn’t, she said.

“Really?,” I said. “What does it mean in the statement, where it says ‘We have identified a substance….”

Ms. Putnam explained that they have identified that there is a waxy-like substance in the liners, but they have not yet identified what the substance is. She said that their chemists have been working on it “around the clock for days and days.”

They announced this yesterday, yet they’ve been working on it for days and days?

I asked Ms. Putnam, why does Kellogg’s say that “the potential for serious health problems is low,” since 25% of the complaints included reports of vomiting or diarrhea? She deferred to the FDA, saying that the company’s statement is based on the agency’s definition of a serious event. She emphasized that possible health problems are temporary.

The latest Kellogg’s nightmare is just another in a long series of company recalls. Last year, the company recalled Eggo waffles due to potential lysteria contamination, and later recalled peanut butter sandwiches due to a risk of salmonella poisoning. According to Business Week, the FDA ordered the company to clean up its Atlanta Eggo plant after the lysteria incident. In 2006, Kellogg’s recalled certain Pop Tarts due to potential undeclared allergens.

Also, in 2001 the company was involved in the country’s largest incident of contamination from genetically engineered food, when an unapproved variety of gene-modified (GMO) corn called StarLink was found in Kellogg’s Morningstar Farms brand corn dogs.

List of cereals recalled yesterday:

Kellogg’s® Apple Jacks®

* UPC 3800039136 1: 17 ounce package with Better if Used Before Dates between APR 10 2011 and JUN 22 2011

* UPC 3800039132 3: 8.7 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between JUN 03 2011 and JUN 22 2011

Kellogg’s® Corn Pops®

* UPC 3800039109 5: 12.5 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between MAR 26 2011 and JUN 22 2011

* UPC 3800039111 8: 17.2 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between MAR 26 2011 and JUN 22 2011

* UPC 3800039116 3: 9.2 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between APR 05 2011 and JUN 22 2011

Kellogg’s® Froot Loops®

* UPC 3800039118 7: 12.2 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between MAR 26 2011 and JUN 22 2011

* UPC 3800039120 0: 17 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between MAR 26 2011 and JUN 22 2011

* UPC 3800039125 5: 8.7 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between MAR 26 2011 and JUN 22 2011

Kellogg’s® Honey Smacks®

* UPC 3800039103 3: 15.3 ounce packages with Better if Used Before Dates between MAR 26 2011 and JUN 22 2011

Update: Earlier this week, Kellogg sent an email to reporters to “clarify” the recent cereal recall. Kellogg says they have completed their assessment and identified the chemical that caused the foul smell (not to mention some associated illnesses) from their sugary products.


As noted above, Kellogg spokesperson Adaire Putnam assured me that the company would release the identity of the harmful substance once it had been determined, so imagine my surprise when I read in Kellogg’s statement that the problems were “caused by a slightly elevated level of substance (sic) commonly present at very low levels in the waxy resins used to make packaging materials.”

That’s right, Kellogg’s says the cause was “substance” (their ungrammatical statement leaves it unclear whether they meant “a substance” or “substances”). Yesterday I again asked the company to identify the substance(s). You may be shocked to learn I’ve received no response. Perhaps Ms. Putnam forgot that she assured me the company would be honest with consumers.


If you want to ask Kellogg’s about the identity of the mystery substance, call them at 269-961-2000.

Update 2: July 13, 2010 – Today Kellogg Company acknowledged that the substance of concern is methylnaphthalene, a chemical that CDC/NIOSH describes thus: “Insufficient data are available on the effect of this substance on human health, therefore utmost care must be taken.” Despite the refusal of the company’s public relations department to disclose the identity of the substance, A Kellogg nurse apparently gave the information to the Environmental Working Group.