Like most educated consumers, I got the message about the consequences of eating food containing trans fats some time ago. But with FDA’s recent announcement that food manufacturers will have three years to remove partially hydrogenated oils from their products, I decided to take a closer look at what I was eating.
When I checked my refrigerator, freezer and kitchen cabinets, I did not find one item in my home that contained trans fats—all of them had a big zero in the trans fat box.
Then, I came across multiple online articles that listed popular items that still contain trans fats, such as canned frosting, savory snacks, microwave popcorn, packaged pie, frozen pizza, margarine, coffee creamer and certain candy products. I don’t purchase these items, except for crackers and an occasional package of microwave popcorn or candy.
After doing some additional research on the topic, I concluded most consumers would not have the time to read all the ingredient literature and make sense of it. Plus, they are probably unaware of the meaning of terms such as hydrolyzed and interesterified, for example. I wondered how they could possibly know the difference between hydrogenated oil and partially hydrogenated oil. While conversations on these topics rarely pop up with my friends and family, they occasionally occur with office colleagues.
Twenty-five years ago, I had a coworker at Food Engineering who frequently spoke about the health dangers of trans fat in processed food. This person was not one of the food technologists we had on staff, but she was certainly a highly educated consumer. Looking back, I see she was way ahead of her time, and I wish I listened a bit more closely.
The food manufacturing challenges go on. The industry continues to make needed formulation changes for better consumer health, but it also must continue its consumer education programs and, maybe sometimes, listen even a little bit more closely to consumer concerns.