FDA Decision on Trans Fat Ban Expected This Week

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FDA Decision on Trans Fat Ban Expected This Week
FDA Decision on Trans Fat Ban Expected This Week

FDA Decision on Trans Fat Ban Expected This Week
FDA Decision on Trans Fat Ban Expected This Week

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may announce its decision on a proposed ban on the use of trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated oils) in processed foods this week.

Trans fats have been widely used in foods for decades, and were generally considered a safe ingredient. Research in recent years, however, has shown that trans fats are linked to a number of serious health problems, in particular heart disease, AOL reports. A 2002 report from the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine found a direct correlation between trans fat intake and increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—”bad” cholesterol—trans fats increase the risk of heart disease.

Trans fats are found in many of the foods Americans consume on a daily basis: crackers, cookies, cakes, and other baked goods; snack foods (microwave popcorn, for example); frozen pizza; vegetable shortening and stick margarine; coffee creamers; refrigerated doughs, and ready-to-use frostings. In the mid-2000s, after the FDA required trans fat information on Nutrition Facts labels, consumers began reducing their consumption of trans fats and many manufacturers voluntarily changed their recipes to reduce or eliminate trans fats. According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a further reduction in trans fats in the nation’s food supply can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and help prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks annually.

Last year, the FDA issued a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, a standard applied to food additives. GRAS indicates that qualified experts generally recognize the additive as safe under the conditions of intended use. Trans fats were long considered GRAS, the FDA says.

AOL reports that while some favorite foods, including Oreos and Cheetos, have already eliminated trans fats, others, like Pop Secret microwave popcorn and Sarah Lee cheesecake, still contain trans fats. Food manufacturers use partially hydrogenated oils in so many products because they boost a product’s shelf life and enhance texture. Trans fats can also help foods take and retain color, increasing their visual appeal.

If the FDA issues a final determination that PHOs are not GRAS, food manufacturers would have to obtain FDA premarket approval before adding PHOs to food. Any food containing an unapproved food additive is considered adulterated under U.S. law cannot legally be sold, the FDA explains. Dennis M. Keefe, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety, explains that any FDA action would allow adequate time for the food industry to phase out PHOs. Small businesses that sell snack foods are especially concerned about having time to make adjustments in the products they sell.

Even if trans fats are banned, Keefe said, trans fats would not completely disappear from the food supply because they naturally occur in small amounts in meat and dairy products. Trans fats are also present at very low levels in edible oils such as fully hydrogenated oils, produced during the manufacturing process, according to the FDA.