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National Restaurant Association - Get the skinny on trans fat

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Get the skinny on trans fat

Following the Food and Drug Administration’s decision to remove partially hydrogenated oils from its list of “Generally Recognized as Safe” ingredients, the National Restaurant Association is offering information to help operators better understand the rule.

The FDA said June 16 it is removing PHOs, the main contributor of artificial trans fat in the food supply, from the GRAS list.

Starting June 2018, restaurants, foodservice operators, manufacturers and others will no longer be permitted to sell items made with or containing PHOs without prior FDA approval.

Joan McGlockton, the NRA’s vice president of industry relations and food policy, said during a recent NRA webinar that it’s important for restaurateurs to understand the new rules and work with suppliers to find PHO alternatives.

McGlockton was joined in the July 9 webinar by attorney Martin Hahn of the Hogan Lovells law firm, Maggie Gentile, senior director of nutrition for Food Directions, and Bob Collette, president of the Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils.

The FDA believes eliminating artificial trans fat from the food supply will reduce heart disease in the United States, Gentile noted. She said the FDA has since 2006 required manufacturers to label foods containing 0.5 grams or more of trans fat per serving.

Efforts by the FDA and the food industry have resulted in a 78 percent decrease in the amount of artificial trans fat consumed in the United States between 2003 and 2012, said Gentile, but that some crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods, stick margarines and coffee creamers still contain artificial trans fat.

“Those are the top categories where the FDA believes PHOs still need to be reduced,” she said. “Restaurateurs have worked voluntarily to reduce artificial trans fat in their operations and have put pressure on their suppliers to reduce it too. That said, our job is to delight the guest and we’re continuing to work to do that.”

Collette said suppliers are working to develop alternative oils.

“The top thing is taste,” he said. “Whatever the alternative, it has to provide as similar a taste as possible, and have the same shelf life, stability, functionality and appearance. Price matters a lot as well. There hasn’t been one simple solution; we’ve had to look at a variety of possible replacements.”

Solutions, he added, include palm, palm kernel, high oleic soybean, fully hydrogenated oils and combinations and blends of these oils and fats.

Hogan Lovell’s Hahn said giving the FDA ability to regulate use of PHOs through food-additive petitions once it has determined an item is no longer GRAS is troubling.

“We seem to be moving one step closer to the nanny state,” he said. “Once the FDA starts regulating PHOs as a food additive, it will get to dictate what foods can contain PHOs and what levels of trans fat can be used in those foods. If they do this for PHOs, what are they going to do about sodium? They could easily say they’re concerned about sodium levels and that it has to be regulated as a food additive.”

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