WASHINGTON — The baking industry will need to make the most of a 60-day comment period concerning a Nov. 8 Federal Register notice in which the Food and Drug Administration seeks to remove artificial trans fats from processed foods, said industry representatives.
The first blush remarks were in response to an announcement by the F.D.A. that it has concluded partially hydrogenated oils (P.H.O.s) no longer belong on the list of ingredients generally recognized as safe. The agency has published a Federal Register notice to that effect with the goal of removing artificial trans fats from processed foods.
Theresa Cogswell, president of Baker Cogs, Inc., Overland Park, Kas., said questions that may need answering include what is a “zero” level of artificial trans fat in products, how attainable is zero trans fat and how smaller food manufacturers will achieve that goal.
If the F.D.A.’s preliminary determination is finalized, then partially hydrogenated oils would become food additives subject to premarket approval by the agency. Foods containing unapproved food additives are considered adulterated under U.S. law, meaning they cannot be sold legally.
“If F.D.A. determines that P.H.O.s are not GRAS, it could, in effect, mean the end of artificial, industrially-produced trans fat in foods,” said Dennis M. Keefe, Ph.D., director of the F.D.A.’s Office of Food Additive Safety. “F.D.A. is soliciting comments on how such an action would impact small businesses and how to ensure a smooth transition if a final determination is issued.”
The F.D.A. has the authority to act when it believes an ingredient is, in fact, not GRAS, and that’s what the agency said its preliminary determination is doing now with P.H.O.s.
Information on GRAS may be found under sections 201(s) and 409 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Any substance intentionally added to food is a food additive subject to premarket review and approval by the F.D.A., unless the substance is generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe.
Partial hydrogenation brings about artificial trans fat in food products. According to the F.D.A., consuming trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein (L.D.L.) or “bad” cholesterol, increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.
The American Bakers Association said of the Nov. 8 Federal Register notice, “A.B.A. will work with its members to review the proposal and provide thoughtful comment to F.D.A.”
The Independent Bakers Association, Washington, said it is reviewing the proposal and investigating the potential impact on the baking industry.
Trans fat has been a major issue for the last 10 years, since an F.D.A. proposal requiring labeling of trans fat on Nutrition Facts labels. Under those rules, trans fat must be expressed as grams per serving. For servings with less than 0.5 gram of trans fat, the content is expressed as “0 g.” The rule became effective in 2006.
Ms. Cogswell said the baking industry will need to put comments together “in a very short period of time on an issue that is very important.”
She said the zero level of trans fat possibly may end up meaning less than a certain number of parts per million (p.p.m.) or parts per billion (p.p.b.)
Ms. Cogswell said smaller food manufacturers may have more trouble hitting a zero level of trans fat than larger manufacturers. The larger manufacturers already may be at the zero level with their products because larger retailers demanded it.
Many companies already have eliminated
trans fat from many products since the imposition of the labeling requirement. At the retail level, artificial trans fat still appears in some brands of pies in the frozen food aisle, cookie mixes, ice cream and microwave popcorn.
Ingredient suppliers have played a role in reducing or eliminating trans fat in products. Initially, bakers were able to switch to palm oil from partially hydrogenated oil to cut out trans fat. Also, the fractionation of palm, or the separation of it into components, may be used to create trans fat-free products with less saturated fat.
Shortenings with enzymatic interesterified soybean oil offered a replacement for shortenings with partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Also, high-oleic soybean oil is entering the market.
High-oleic oils, along with claims of having 0 grams of trans fat per serving, may offer similar functionality as partially hydrogenated oil. High-oliec sunflower oils and canola oils already are on the market.
According to the F.D.A., since the labeling rule went into effect in 2006, trans fat intake among American consumers has declined to 1 gram per day in 2012 from 4.6 grams per day in 2003.