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FDA Announcement on Trans Fat Ban Expected Possibly This Week

May 20, 2015

It is expected that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon announce a nearly total ban on the use of trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oils, in processed foods.

Trans fats have been widely used in foods for decades, but research in recent years has shown that trans fats are linked to a number of serious health problems, AOL reports. A 2002 report from the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine found a direct correlation between trans fat intake and increased levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—"bad" cholesterol—and, therefore, they increase the risk of heart disease.

Trans fats are commonly found in crackers, cookies, cakes, frozen pies and other baked goods; snack foods (such as microwave popcorn); frozen pizza; vegetable shortening and stick margarine; coffee creamers; refrigerated doughs, and ready-to-use frostings. In the mid-2000s, after the FDA required trans fats be listed on food product Nutrition Facts labels, consumers began turning away from foods with trans fats and many manufacturers voluntarily changed their recipes to reduce or eliminate trans fats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a further reduction in trans fats in the nation’s food supply can prevent an additional 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year and up to 20,000 heart attacks annually.

Though such favorite foods as Oreos and Cheetos have already eliminated the ingredient, others, like Pop Secret microwave popcorn and Sarah Lee cheesecake, still contain it, AOL reports. Partially hydrogenated oils are popular with food manufacturers because they boost a product’s shelf life and enhance texture. Trans fats can also help foods take and retain color, increasing their visual appeal.

Last year, the FDA issued a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, a standard applied to food additives. GRAS indicates that qualified experts generally recognize the additive as safe under the conditions of intended use. Trans fats were long considered GRAS, the FDA says.

If the FDA determines that PHOs are not GRAS, food manufacturers would have to obtain premarket approval by FDA before adding PHOs to food. Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under U.S. law, meaning they cannot legally be sold, the FDA explains. Dennis M. Keefe, Ph.D., director of the Office of Food Additive Safety, explains that any FDA action would provide adequate time for the food industry to phase out PHOs. Small businesses that sell snack foods would also need time to make adjustments in the products they sell. Further, Keefe said, trans fat would not be completely gone from the food supply because it occurs naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products. It is also present at very low levels in other edible oils, such as fully hydrogenated oils, where it is unavoidably produced during the manufacturing process, according to the FDA.

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