Three years following New York's ban on smoking in restaurants, health officials plan to prohibit artificial trans fatty acids.
On Tuesday the city health department has unveiled a proposal, which will disallow cooks at any of New York's 24,600 food service establishments from using any ingredients that contain partially hydrogenated oil, a substance known to clog the artery.
Artificial trans fats are today commonly found in some shortenings, margarine and frying oils as well as foods from pie crusts to french fries to doughnuts.
Although doctors are of the opinion that trans fats are unhealthy in nearly any amount, but restaurant industry spokesman claimed to be stunned at a ban of a legal ingredient found in millions of American kitchens.
Chuck Hunt, executive vice president of the New York City chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association said, "Labeling is one thing, but when they totally ban a product, it goes well beyond what we think is prudent and acceptable."
According to him with this proposal cooks will be forced to discard old recipes and scrutinize every ingredient in their pantry. It could even translate into a fine for a restaurant if the wrong type of vegetable shortening was found on its shelves.
Fast food McDonald's french fries, Kentucky Fried Chicken and several varieties of Dunkin' Donuts are all expected to face an overhaul or a ban.
Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden acknowledged that although the ban would be a challenge for restaurants, he stated that trans fats could be easily be replaced with substitute oils that taste the same or better and are far less unhealthy.
Frieden said, "It is a dangerous and unnecessary ingredient. No one will miss it when it's gone."
According to the proposal, restaurants would need to get artificial trans fats out of cooking oils, margarine and shortening by July 1, 2007, and all other foodstuffs by July 1, 2008. Grocery stores would remain unaffected. Naturally occurring trans fats, which are found in some meats and dairy products are also exempted from these regulations.
The Board of Health has yet to approve the proposal and will not do so until at least December, Frieden said.
A few food companies have already moved to eliminate trans fats on their own.
In August Wendy's had announced a switch over to a new cooking oil that contains no trans fatty acids for its fast food restaurants. Frito-Lay removed trans fats from its Doritos and Cheetos. Crisco now sells a shortening that contains zero trans fats. Kraft's took trans fats out of Oreos.
In Demark McDonald's began using a trans fat-free cooking oil after that artificial trans fats in processed food was banned there, but it has yet to do so in the United States.
Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard University School of Public Health, praised New York health officials for considering a ban, which could save lives.
He said, "Artificial trans fats are very toxic, and they almost surely causes tens of thousands of premature deaths each year. The federal government should have done this long ago."