If FDA bans all trans fat, some companies would have to change, again

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

Food makers and restaurant operators that spent millions to reduce the amount of trans fat in their foods would have to go back to the drawing board if the FDA bans trans fats entirely.

Many companies advertise that their foods already contain “zero” trans fat. That’s not the same as saying they have “none.” The FDA allows food makers and restaurants to declare that a product has “zero” trans fat if the amount per serving is less than 0.5 gram.

Plano, Texas-based Frito-Lay Inc. took the lead in product reformulation and began selling “zero trans fat” snacks in 2003 — three years before all packaged foods were required to list the amount of trans fat on the nutrition label.

Still, some of the company’s snacks, now cooked in corn, canola and/or sunflower oil, fall into the 0.0 to 0.5 gram range, a spokesman said.

The FDA has opened a 60-day comment period on the preliminary determination to collect additional data and get input from the food industry. If the determination is finalized as written, food makers would lose that 0.5-gram fudge factor.

If the determination is finalized, FDA spokeswoman Shelly Burgess said, foods with trans fat would be considered “an adulterated food,” and the seller would be subject to enforcement actions. But she acknowledged that the agency is still working on methods to reliably test food products with trans fat at levels as low as 0.1 gram per serving.

Opinions ranged widely on how much a final determination banning trans fat would impact the food industry. Most of the heavy lifting has already been done, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who estimates that 75 percent of the trans fat already is gone from the food supply.

Chris Shanahan, with the Frost & Sullivan market research firm, thinks “in the long term, prices of certain foods will increase and different foods will be discontinued.”

Frito-Lay declined to say how much its original reformulation cost or how the company might be impacted by a finalized determination.

At least 26 items on the menu at Chili’s Grill & Bar have at least 1 g of trans fat per serving, not counting items that have 0.5 gram.

Asked about the potential impact, a spokeswoman said: “As always, we fully comply with guidelines set forth by regulatory agencies such as FDA.”

Tim Taft, chief executive of the Fiesta Restaurant Group, based in Addison, Texas, said food at both of the company’s brands — Taco Cabana and Pollo Tropical — are trans-fat free “if you use the government’s threshold of 0.5 percent. Less than 1 percent of all items we carry have any at all but (nothing is) above 0.5 percent.”

He said the cost to deal with the “less than 1 percent” would be “negligible.”

Some frozen pizzas, along with refrigerated dough and microwave popcorn, still contain trans fat.


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