New York City Bans Use of Trans Fats in Restaurants
December 12, 2006 -- The New York City Board of Health banned trans fat oils and shortenings from being used in an estimated 24,000 restaurants. They are also requiring that restaurants with standard menu items, such as Starbucks or McDonald's, prominently display the amount of calories in each item served, either on menus, menu boards, or near cash registers. The trans fat and mandatory menu labeling law will be phased in, starting in July 2007, and restaurants will have 18 months to come into complete compliance. Violations after October 2007 will result in a fine.
Trans fatty acids, such as the partially hydrogenated vegetable oils used in shortening and margarines, are some of the most artery-clogging fats that people can eat. They have physical properties that generally resemble saturated fats once consumed, which increase the risk of heart disease and raise the level of "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream of some individuals.
New York City is the first city to pass such a measure. Health department restaurant inspectors will examine the packaging of items used in restaurant kitchens for their trans fat content, but will not routinely test prepared food. The minimum fine for violators is $200.
In 2004, many packaged food producers began removing trans fats from their products because in January 2006 nutritional labels would be required by the Food and Drug Administration to disclose the trans fat content. Some restaurant chains have already followed suit. Wendy’s uses a soy-corn blend of cooking oil and KFC says it will eliminate trans fats in its food offerings by April 2007.
Two recent Institute of Medicine reports -- Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? and Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance -- both call for caloric content and other nutritional information to be prominently displayed at the point of choice and sale. Food Marketing to Children and Youth calls for a joint effort between parents, health authorities, and other stakeholders to develop and implement nutrition standards for foods and beverages that compete with federally reimbursed school meals, including products sold in school stores and vending machines or for fundraising. Both reports also called for nutrition standards for all competitive foods and beverages sold or served on school grounds, including those from vending machines.
An important step in the FDA’s process to determine whether trans fat should be listed on nutrition labels was receiving the Institute of Medicine's findings and recommendations on trans fatty acids. The 2002/2005 report Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids concluded that since they are not essential and provide no known health benefit, there is no safe level of trans fats, and people should eat as little of them as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet. In 2003, Dietary Reference Intakes: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification examined labeling practices and recommended that more information be added to food labels, including trans fat content. The reports are part of a 12-part series on dietary reference intakes.