The Food and Drug Administration said it was looking into reports of stomach illness possibly linked to Lucky Charms cereal.
Though the agency has not issued a formal alert, many people have reported feeling sick after eating the breakfast cereal in posts on the consumer safety website iwaspoisoned.com.
Since April 1, more than 2,800 people across the U.S. have posted about gastrointestinal symptoms that they believe are linked to Lucky Charms, according to Patrick Quade, the website's founder and CEO. Quade said it was the biggest surge of reports related to any single product that he has seen on the site.
Many of the reports mention related symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and green stools.
"The FDA is aware of reports and is looking into the matter. The FDA takes seriously any reports of possible adulteration of a food that may also cause illnesses or injury," an FDA official said.
Racquel Ashman, who lives in Georgia, said she and her 7-year-old daughter, Olivia, recently got sick after consuming Lucky Charms. Olivia developed a headache and stomach pain on March 29, one day after eating the cereal.
"She was vomiting everywhere. It was a mess. She had diarrhea. She was complaining of cramps," 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.
"On Monday when I woke up, I started feeling absolutely terrible," she said. "I had abdominal cramps. It literally felt worse than my labor pains. I was very confused. I was just vomiting. I couldn't keep anything down at all. I had diarrhea, too. I kept getting chills."
The timing of their illnesses and the overlapping symptoms led Ashman to conclude that the cereal likely made both her and Olivia sick. She posted about it on iwaspoisoned.com.
The website allows anyone to report symptoms and note where they believe the illness originated. The posts are reviewed and curated but not individually investigated. Iwaspoisoned.com is one of several crowd-sourcing sites owned by parent company IWP Health Inc.
Quade said he first noticed an unusual uptick in reports about Lucky Charms in July 2021, and the number of reports has stayed above average since then.
"This absolutely warrants further investigation quickly to see what's actually going on here, because something is certainly not right," Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety extension associate at Penn State University, said.
But General Mills, which makes Lucky Charms, said it didn't believe the cereal was the cause of the stomach problems.
"Food safety is our top priority. We take the consumer concerns reported via a third-party website very seriously. After a thorough internal investigation, we have not found any evidence that these complaints are attributed to our products," Andrea Williamson, a General Mills spokesperson, said. "We encourage consumers to please share any concerns directly with General Mills to ensure they can be appropriately addressed."
The FDA, too, has yet to confirm that Lucky Charms caused any foodborne illness.
The FDA has its own reporting systems for food safety issues. The agency said Saturday that it has received more than 100 complaints related to Lucky Charms this year, after receiving only three in 2021.
It is possible that some of the abdominal problems are just norovirus, the bug responsible for the stomach flu, since data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests outbreaks have been on the rise since January.
Bucknavage said it's unusual for cereal to be associated with 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 accounts on iwaspoisoned.com say symptoms came on within a few hours of eating Lucky Charms. Bacteria like salmonella or E. coli generally don't result in illness for 24 to 48 hours after entering the body.
Ashman, however, said she didn't get sick right away, and her symptoms lasted several days, which aligns with a bacterial infection, Bucknavage said.
Ashman returned to work on Wednesday after two days of sick leave.
"I just physically could not even hold my phone or be on my computer long enough to do anything productive," she said, adding, "this has been the worst week in my life in a while."