The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced November 7, 2013 that it has taken the first step to eventually remove trans fats from processed foods, which, in the agency’s estimation, could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7000 deaths from heart disease each year.
That first step is a preliminary determination by the FDA that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary source of trans fats in processed foods, are no longer “generally recognized as safe (GRAS).” The agency said it made the decision on the basis of available scientific evidence and the findings of expert panels.
Food manufacturers can add ingredients with GRAS status to their products without advance approval by the FDA. If PHOs lose GRAS status, food manufacturers would have to reformulate their products to exclude these oils or else convince the FDA that a specific use of PHOs is safe under the agency’s safety standard, called “reasonable certainty of no harm.”
For 60 days, the FDA will be accepting comments on its plan to ban PHOs from processed foods. In particular, it is looking for input on the length of time food manufacturers need to comply with the ban. “We recognize that it may take some time to phase out their use,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in a blog post today. After the comment period, the agency will decide whether to make its preliminary determination final.
The agency noted that the food industry has been voluntarily reducing the amount of trans fats in many of their products. However, trans fats still appear in the likes of microwave popcorn, frozen pizzas, margarines, and coffee creamers, even though many of these products can be made without this ingredient.
The FDA’s preliminary determination does not apply to the small amounts of trans fats that naturally occur in some meat and dairy products.