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In March 1993, Harvard University came out with a study that found a connection between trans fat and coronary heart disease. The results of the study prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to add trans fats to nutritional labels. While this move went into effect 13 years later, it ignited a major shift in the U.S. food supply.

The FDA has set its sights on trans fat once again, ruling in November that partially hydrogenated oils are not "generally recognized as safe for us in food." The determination was made as part of the administration's preliminary determination to ban artificial trans fats.

At issue is the continued link between partially hydrogenated oil and heart attacks and heart disease. If banned, the reduction of artificial trans fat in the U.S. could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease per year, according to the FDA.

Since issuing its preliminary determination, a 60-day period has gone into effect during which more data can be collected and food manufacturers can submit comments in regard to the time needed to reformulate foods.

If the FDA's preliminary determination is finalized, partially hydrogenated oils would be considered "food additives" and could not be used in food unless authorized by regulation.

For restaurant operators, the short term solution may be a switch to saturated fat, but the long term solution is to replace partially hydrogenated oils with fats that have a more healthful effect (monounsaturated fat and omega-3s to name two). Restaurant operators also can opt to use fully saturated fats such as lard, palm oil or completely hydrogenated fats.

Here are a few other ways restaurant operators can start to remove artificial trans fats from the menu:

1. Switch to a smart fat to deep fry food. Canola oil is high in monounsaturated fat and plant omega-3s, has a neutral flavor and can handle high heat. Operators can make a huge health change in their menus by frying in 100 percent canola oil.

2. Start reading product labels. Identify the products with partially hydrogenated oils and look for alternative products that have already eliminated them.

3. If an ingredient can't be easily replaced, call the manufacturer to determine an appropriate product replacement. The manufacturer also could tell you if they're in the process of reformulating an item to eliminate partially hydrogenated oils, or if they're planning to in the future.

While it's easy to believe the worst is yet to come, the reality is there's nothing to fear. Start the process now to remove artificial trans fats from your menus and stay one step ahead of your customers ... and your competition. And feel free to give us a call to learn more: 888.767.MENU (6368).

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Betsy Craig
Betsy Craig brings 20 years of food service industry experience to MenuTrinfo, LLC a menu nutritional labeling Company. Her commitment to the betterment of the food industry and her desire to affect the dining public are the driving forces behind her new company Kitchens with Confidence, LLC.
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