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Food and Drug Administration decides trans fat unsafe to eat

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By Bobby Kerlik
Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 11:57 p.m.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said heart-clogging trans fats are not safe to eat and told the food industry to get them off the menu.

The FDA said it will require food producers to gradually phase out all artificial trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated oils, saying they are a health threat.

“I'm thrilled. I think it's a great move,” said Karen Hacker, head of the Allegheny County Health Department. “And it's a simple thing to do. There is trans fat-free oil. There's pretty good evidence that says (trans fats) are a problem, and there's not much difference in taste” with other oils.

The FDA said trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein, or so-called bad cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease — the leading cause of death in the United States. The agency pointed to a study from the Institute of Medicine that concluded trans fat provides no health benefits and that there is no safe level of artificial trans fat consumption.

The FDA didn't set a time line for the phase-out but will collect comments for two months on the effects of the ban.

Trans fats are used in processed food and in restaurants, often to improve the texture, shelf-life or flavor. They are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid.

Many companies, such as McDonald's and Wendy's, phased out artificial trans fats when the FDA in 2006 required nutrition labels that list trans fats. Some cities, such as New York, have banned them.

Patrons of McDonald's and Wendy's on the North Side said they didn't know the restaurants stopped using trans fats.

“I think it's a good thing,” said James DeMar, 32, of the North Side, as he picked up sandwiches at Wendy's for his wife and daughter. “I think they should shut down all the fast-food places. I'd rather have a home-cooked meal. We're an obese country. This is why.”

Kehema Muhina, 18, of Sharpsburg left McDonald's with fries but didn't agree with the FDA's decision.

“I had no idea (they don't use trans fats). I came here because I think (McDonald's) tastes better,” Muhina said. “I don't know if the government should do that. It should be a personal decision.”

The impact of the FDA's move on large food producers such as Heinz or grocers like Giant Eagle was unclear.

Heinz removed trans fats from its Ore-Ida line of potato products. The company declined to comment on the FDA decision.

Rick Williamson, spokesman for meat products company Hormel, which has a plant in Green Tree, said more than 97 percent of their retail products do not contain partially hydrogenated oils.

“During the past few years, we have been working with our suppliers to further eliminate PHOs from the few remaining products that contain them,” Williamson said.

Giant Eagle spokesman Dick Roberts said the grocery chain awaited further details from the FDA before reviewing the potential impact.

Trans fats can be found in processed foods, including microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, refrigerated doughs and cookies.

As a result of efforts to phase out trans fats, consumers are eating less of them. The FDA says trans fat intake declined from 4.6 grams per day in 2003 to about one gram per day in 2012.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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