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August 2007
Spotlight: Handling Trans Fat-Free Oils
By: Michael Romico

Notes From The Trans Fat Field
Trans fat—about as popular as Michael Moore at a Republican convention these days—is out at Star-bucks and McDonald's and no longer the focus of a lawsuit at KFC.

Starbucks Corp. has announced that all products, both food and beverage, in its U.S. and Canadian stores will be trans fat-free by the end of the year. The company is still working on how to reformulate products supplied in overseas stores.

Meanwhile, McDonald's Corp. announced in May that it plans to roll out trans fat-free oil nationwide within the next year. The company is already using such oils in a few thousand stores, and worked several years longer than anticipated to find a trans fat-free alternative that would preserve the taste of its fries.

And two days after KFC announced that it was switching to trans fat-free oil for frying chicken, a judge threw out a lawsuit that accused the chain of not telling customers it used trans fat to fry foods.

While the switch to trans fat-free oils isn't that complicated, there are some things to know about how to handle the new products.

With all the talk lately about trans fat-free oils, we checked in with an operator who's using them to see how they're being handled differently than traditional frying oils, and what type of equipment is making the process easier.

By now we all know that reducing trans fats in favor of monosaturated or unsaturated fats is an im-portant step toward reversing this country's rising rates of heart disease and other related ailments. Several major chains—the latest being Applebee's Int'l, Cracker Barrel and Steak 'n' Shake—are making the move to trans fat-free, or TFF, oils this year. Wendy's and others made the leap some time ago.

Contract feeder Aramark Corp., which handles foodservice for more than 1,400 commercial clients and hundreds of educational and healthcare institutions nationwide, is close to meeting its goal of 100% transition to TFF oils this year, says Doug Martinides, v.p. for culinary development.

While Martinides says he has not seen a significant difference between the performance of traditional oils and TFFs, the new formulations have generally required more vigilant filtration procedures to maximize their longevity. Thus, Aramark is placing heavy focus on fryer management training and maintenance procedures.

Because the contract feeder deploys its foodservice personnel in client kitchens, Martinides says it was logical to re-emphasize training procedures first. Regardless of emerging technologies, operational procedures have a great impact on fryer performance and food quality.

In the year or so that Aramark's clients have made the switch, Martinides says filtration has emerged as a critical component in making the most of TFFs. He says fryers with automated filtering capabilities are more attractive to use with these oils.

"Manual draining and cleaning is something we want to get away from," he adds. And he says that too much has been made of the apparent shorter shelf life of TFF oils. While they do not have a longer shelf life, proper handling can erase any losses, he says.

New Technologies Coming?
The industry is ripe for new technologies that will address the operational nuances of TFF oils, says Dave Brewer, former facilities exec with Yum! Brands and newly appointed president of Pitco Frialator/Middleby. With TFFs, "the [temperature] tolerances are toughened a little bit. They're much more susceptible to breaking down," Brewer says. "You do have to manage the oil better than you used to, but it's still manageable."

In addition to filtration, he says, attention to oil flow and temperature control play a big part in being able to squeeze all the life out of TFF oils, which remain slightly higher priced than their predecessors.

As for temperature, Brewer says the temperature sensitivity of TFFs can lead to off flavors in food when ingredients such as breading heat up and release. With these elements floating in pots, temps fluctuate and oil quality begins to degrade.

"Steady temperature controls and efficient residue collection have been must-haves for fry operators for years," Brewer says. "TFF oils have only made those needs more acute."

Pitco will be among the suppliers planning to introduce equipment at The NAFEM Show in October that will provide continuous filtration and address the other subtle needs of TFF oils.

Meanwhile, in another industry—poultry processing—a new fryer came out earlier this year that's specifically designed to slow TFF oil deterioration. The high-volume poultry frying system from FMC FoodTech combines a heat exchanger with what the company calls a centrifugal filtration system.

FMC says the heat exchanger features electro-polished fins that prevent sediment from sticking, while the filtration system is built to filter out suspended flour particles (from breading) as small as 5 microns, all in an effort to keep free fatty acid build-up to a minimum.

So the move is on in our industry and others to make the use of TFF oils manageable and cost effective.

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