How a Federal Ban on PHOs could Effect Restaurants

The potential health dangers of trans fats have been enjoying a healthy discussion for over a decade now, with a number of policies being put in place to inform consumers and in some cases, already ban their use. Partially hydrogenated oils, or PHOs, are the main source of trans fats and early in November, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a total ban on their use in food products. The FDA tentatively determined that PHOs are no longer ‘recognized as safe’ – which is a required designation for any ingredient to be added to food without explicit FDA approval. For restaurants, the ban could mean reformulating any menu items still made with trans fats.

Weeding Partially Hydrogenated Oils Out of the Menu

The FDA started requiring the amount of trans fat in a product to be put on labels in 2003, but weeding them out of the menu entirely can still be tricky. You’ll find trans fats in bread, crackers, shelf-stable baked goods (such as ice cream cones), and oily things in general. They’re also present in a number of whipped toppings, pre-made pie crusts, and, of course, in frying oil.

Eliminating trans fats from the menu entirely can take some time and typically requires working with your distributors to determine alternatives that are available. Many restaurants have even taken to making their own trans fat-free items, such as those whipped toppings and pie crusts, creating a superior product for a similar price.

Much of the Transition away from Trans Fats has already Occurred

Fortunately, the proposed ban should be a reasonably easy transition for the restaurant industry since much of the hard work of the transition has already been done years ago. When research about the potentially harmful health effects of trans fats first came out, the availability of a number of alternative products quickly followed suit. Today there are trans fat-free versions of nearly every product – you simply need to look for it.

Furthermore, some states have already passed the ban of their own accord so restaurants in those areas already have a leg up on others around the nation still needing to make the transition.

Restaurants should not Fear the PHO Ban

Ultimately, restaurant operators should not fear the FDA’s ban on artificial trans fats. Thanks to required labeling, better information, and a greater variety of alternatives, making the switch now will be much easier than it would have been had it been required seven or eight years ago. The proposal is currently being put to the public before the final determination is made, but odds are good the bill will pass.

If you haven’t already scrutinized your menu for trans fat culprits, it will take some time to do so – and then to come up with alternatives – but it needn’t be overwhelming. Work with your distributors to determine other options that are available to you and rest easy knowing that ultimately, removing trans fats from your menu means that you will be offering a higher quality product to the public.

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