Crisco and Girl Scout cookies are now free of artery-clogging trans fatty acids. But what about our beloved cheesesteaks?
After a public hearing yesterday, City Council's Committee on Public Health and Human Services took the first step toward barring restaurants, food trucks and takeout eateries from using products that contain trans fats.
The bill, proposed by Councilman Juan Ramos, will move to the full Council on Feb. 1, when it will face the first of two votes. The legislation would require local eateries to rid their kitchens and pantries of trans fat by Sept. 1.
Offenders would not face fines or penalties. Instead, Ramos said, they would be subjected to re-education and the possibility of public scorn.
Nationally, as of Jan. 1, food manufacturers have been required to list trans fat content on the nutrition information panels of food labels. As a result, many industry giants, such as Kraft, Frito-Lay and ConAgra, simply switched to healthier oils.
But Ramos said his bill would aid consumers who can't pry into restaurant pantries to examine labels. The bill would require that labels be left on, by the way, so that city inspectors could do their job of enforcement.
No one who testified yesterday, from the School District of Philadelphia (it will comply, too) to the representative from Thomas Jefferson University Medical College, came to the defense of the lowly trans fat - now so despised that it is considered worse than lard.
Trans fats came into popular use because they have a long shelf life and can be used in deep frying as well as baking. Typical culprits have been french fries, deep-fried chicken and fish, pizza, burritos, muffins, doughnuts, brownies - the kind of stuff that is hard to resist.
But groups such as the American Heart Association started sounding alarms when even small quantities of trans fats were found to promote cardiovascular disease, increasing LDL (the bad) cholesterol, deceasing HDL (the good) cholesterol, and promoting inflammation of blood vessels.
Now, in anticipation of increasing restrictions, chain restaurants including Wendy's, Ruby Tuesday, KFC, Taco Bell, Chili's, and even Ruth's Chris have changed their ways, said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, who testified before the Council committee yesterday. Disney and Universal Studio theme parks also plan to phase out the trans fats in food they serve, he said.
Philadelphia would limit the use of trans fats to less than 0.5 grams per serving - whereas, for example, a large order of McDonald's fries provides 8 grams.
That's four days' worth - and it's unnecessary, Jacobson said, because McDonald's does use trans fat-free oils in much of Europe, Israel, Australia and New Zealand, but not in Philadelphia or the rest of the United States.
As many as 1,000 heart attacks and 250 deaths annually could be eliminated in Philadelphia alone with a trans fat ban, he said.
New York City's Health Department approved a ban on trans fats effective this July. In New Jersey, however, a similar bill proposed by State Sen. Ellen Karcher (D., Monmouth) is still pending.
As for cheesesteaks, Tony Luke's, Geno's and Pat's King of Steaks all say they use trans fat-free oils. But they are three out of possibly hundreds of places that sell cheesesteaks around here.