Foodservice Equipment Reports

FDA Bans Trans Fats

Unsafe in any way. That’s the conclusion drawn by the Food and Drug Administration, which last week imposed restrictions on the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), a primary source of trans fats in processed foods.

The regulator told food companies that beginning in 2018, they will have to seek its approval before they can put PHOs in microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, pie crusts, and many other processed items. While not a ban, the FDA’s move marks the first restriction on PHOs at the national level. New York City has banned restaurants from using trans fats since 2006; a follow-up study in 2012 found trans-fat consumption had declined by a “substantial” amount in QSR chains after the regulation went into effect.  

Trans fats have been linked to heart disease, stroke and several other debilitating health issues. Since 2006, food companies have been required to identify the amount of trans fat in their products on nutrition labels.

The FDA has set a three-year compliance deadline for the new restrictions, giving food companies time to seek permission to continue using PHOs or find alternative ingredients. The agency will continue to try to identify the levels at which PHOs can be safe as it reviews these permissions.

“I suspect the FDA will allow only truly minor uses, like in sprinkles used on cupcakes,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

PHOs are used to lengthen the shelf life of food while enhancing taste and texture. Food companies and some chains have had a hard time removing trans fats entirely due to a lack of suitable alternatives that match PHOs’ cost, sustainability, texture and ability to keep mixes from sticking to pans.

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