A city famous for its restaurants and take-out joints is taking health into account by banning the use of trans fats, which lower good cholesterol levels and raise bad cholesterol levels, in food service establishments.
The New York City Board of Health passed the ban unanimously in December after considering more than 2,200 written and oral comments in support of the ban and only 70 objecting to it. The amendment to the health code restricts New York food service establishments from using trans fat-containing products, except for foods served in the manufacturers' original sealed packaging.
"The message we heard was clear," said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden. "New Yorkers overwhelmingly favor action to get artificial trans fat out of their restaurants."
Frieden said that because restaurant owners voiced concerns about difficulties transitioning to the ban, the board changed implementation plans to help the restaurants meet the regulations. The new provision gives restaurants a six-month grace period for replacing trans fat-containing cooking oils, shortening and margarine for frying and for spreads. An 18-month grace period will be allowed for adoption of alternatives in all other products, like pancake mixes and chicken nuggets, and for oils and shortening used for frying yeast dough. The health department will also offer training, help-line assistance and resource materials to aid restaurants in making the transition. The board estimates one-third of New York City's residents' daily caloric intake comes from restaurant food.
The National Restaurant Association, based in Washington, D.C., issued a statement expressing disfavor with the ban, saying the board was ignorant of the challenges that New York's restaurants will face in transitioning. The statement said those challenges may end up forcing a step backward for public health. "Prematurely making switches in product formulation can lead to unintended consequences," said Sheila Weiss, director of nutrition policy at the NRA. "It is often the case that when a manufacturer aims to reduce the amount of trans fat in a product, the amount of saturated fat increases."
Stephen Joseph, chief executive officer of Bantransfat.com, said the NRA's complaints were unfounded, adding that the amount of time it takes for a restaurant to eliminate trans fats is negligible and plenty of healthier, unsaturated oils are available as replacements.
"Other cities are watching very closely," Joseph said, to learn from New York's mistakes and perhaps apply similar regulations.
Trans fat has been scientifically associated with heart disease, which the board said is New York's leading cause of death. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of dietary trans fat is found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a chemically modified oil that is used for frying and baking and is contained in many processed foods. The board decided to target the use of trans fat, as opposed to other fats, because of a 2002 Institute of Medicine report concluding that there is no safe level of artificial trans fat consumption.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 1/p. 1