Taking another step toward removing trans fats in food, FDA said Tuesday it has determined partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the primary dietary source of artificial trans fat in processed foods, are not “generally recognized as safe” or GRAS for use in human food.

With the release of this final determination, manufacturers will have three years to comply and remove PHOs from products. Companies may also petition FDA to seek permission for specific uses of PHOs.

“The FDA’s action on this major source of artificial trans fat demonstrates the agency’s commitment to the heart health of all Americans," said FDA's Acting Commissioner Stephen Ostroff, M.D. "This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.”

Manufacturers have been required to list trans fat in the Nutrition Facts label since 2006. Between 2003 and 2012, FDA estimates that consumer trans fat consumption decreased about 78 percent primarily due to the labeling rule and reformulation of products.

But consumption of trans fat continues to be a major concern. Many companies have already been working to remove PHOs from processed foods and the FDA anticipates that many may eliminate them ahead of the three-year compliance date.

“Studies show that diet and nutrition play a key role in preventing chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and today’s action goes hand in hand with other FDA initiatives to improve the health of Americans, including updating the nutrition facts label,” said Susan Mayne, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) said it was pleased with FDA’s recent action as it addresses concern while minimizing disruptions to commerce.

 “GMA will work in collaboration with FDA to further reduce PHOs in foods,” the association said. “The delayed effective date for FDA’s Notice of Final Determination regarding the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status of Partially Hydrogenated Oils (PHOs) provides time needed for food manufacturers to complete their transition to suitable alternatives and/or seek food additive approval. GMA’s food additive petition to FDA will show that the presence of trans fat from the proposed low-level uses of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) is as safe as the naturally occurring trans fat present in the normal diet.  Food and beverage companies have already voluntarily lowered the amount of trans fat added to food products by more than 86 percent and will continue lowering PHO use in foods.”