Monroe County will soon take on the war against trans fat. Lawmakers announced a campaign on Tuesday to phase out the unhealthy oils used by nearly 2500 food service providers across the County. The trans fat campaign is being backed by the New York Restaurant Association and the Monroe County School Boards Association.
“Alternatives are readily available to local food service providers at a comparable price and they won't change the taste of the food,” says Maggie Brooks, Monroe County Executive.
New York City was the first city in the country to ban trans fat in restaurants. By July 2008, all restaurants are required to use alternatives or face daily fines. Monroe County lawmakers have adopted a similar plan to NYC, however, the proposal is voluntary. The County will ask food service providers to phase out the use of unhealthy oils such as shortening, hydrogenated oils and stick margarine.
Alternatively, the oils can be replaced with healthy choices such as canola, olive and soybean oils.
“It will be much easier for us to talk to food establishments about doing this on their own,” says Brooks, “as a community, I think we recognized that reducing trans fat is a simple step that can be taken.”
Trans fat is created when hydrogen is added to healthy vegetable-based oils. Hydrogenated oils have been used for years as a preservative for foods as well as an ingredient to improve texture and taste. Unfortunately, trans fat oils also raise the LDL or “bad” cholesterol in the body, increasing a person’s risk of heart disease.
In a recent survey of 130 area restaurants, the County found nearly half have voluntarily removed trans fat. Restaurants were surveyed by the County Health Department during Certificate of Health renewal processes. Among those already using trans fat-free cooking methods include: Tyson, Frito-Lay and vendors at Frontier Field.
“Many of us in public health wondered what would be the appropriate action for us to take in our communities,” says Dr. Andrew Doniger, director of the Monroe County Health Department.
Baked goods such as muffins, cookies and pies often use hydrogenated oils not only as a preservative but to keep the texture and taste consistent. As a result, Doniger says it may take these items a little longer to change.
“For some products, for some foods that the restaurants sell they want to make sure that they don't alter the quality of the taste.”
“I think that in this case, a lot of this will be consumer driven. Owners of restaurants, of food establishments are already hearing from people that they want healthier choices when then eat away from home,” says Brooks.
There are no monetary or incentives being offered to food service providers to phase out trans fat. While the program is voluntarily, the County will reassess the progress restaurants have made a year later.