In FDA Regulations
Restaurants can take simple steps to ensure that all PHOs are removed from their menus.

Restaurants can take simple steps to ensure that all PHOs are removed from their menus. Image source: Unsplash user Jonathan Farber.

Since the 1950’s, partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), or trans fats, have been a staple part of the standard American diet. Household products like Crisco and Becel were all the rage, and at one point, they were thought to be healthier than saturated fats like butter and lard. Not only are such products made from unsaturated plant oils, but they also have a longer shelf life than their more natural, conventional alternatives.

PHOs sat comfortably on the FDA’s list for foods Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) until the 1990’s, when studies showed they were linked to negative health markers, like an increased risk of coronary artery disease. Thanks to this research, the FDA began to rethink the safety of PHOs. In 2006, it became mandatory for food manufacturers to disclose their presence on food labels.

Seven years later, in 2013, the FDA removed PHOs from the GRAS list. Then, in 2015, they ruled that these oils were no longer considered safe for human consumption and would not be permitted for use in foods after June 18, 2018. Now that the partially hydrogenated oil compliance date has passed, by 2021, there will no longer be any foods on the market that contain PHOs.

While the food manufacturing industry is certainly impacted by this ban, the restaurant industry is as well. As such, many restaurants are doing their best to make sure that for the next few years, until PHOs are completely off the market, none of their products contain them. So, let’s talk about what you can do to completely eliminate PHOs from your restaurant.

What the Partially Hydrogenated Oil Compliance Date Means for Restaurants

Given that about half of the trans fat or PHOs Americans consume comes from partially hydrogenated oils, it goes without saying that this new rule is going to affect many restaurants that use processed foods. Currently, processed food products used by restaurants cannot contain more than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, but in the coming years, no amount will be allowed. Keep in mind, though, that not all trans fats can be removed from food, as some foods—like dairy products, meat, and some oils—naturally contain small amounts of trans fats. Naturally occurring trans fats are permitted by the FDA, but they cannot be added to food.

It is a good idea to be aware of this if your restaurant orders processed food products, like chicken fingers, pastries, margarine, or shortening, from your supplier because PHOs could still be in the products at this point. Be sure to read the labels on food products and consider looking for other companies that supply foods without PHO/trans fats.

If PHOs are a staple in some of your recipes made from scratch in your kitchen, consider making simple swaps. For pastries, switch out vegetable shortening for stable, wholesome fats like butter or lard. For baking, replace margarine with butter or coconut oil. By making these swaps, you can be sure you don’t violate the partially hydrogenated oil ban.

How to Make the Most of the Partially Hydrogenated Oil Ban

The process of reformulating recipes or changing suppliers for certain products so that they no longer contain trans fats can be a bit stressful in the context of a busy restaurant. Depending on how many menu items need to be reworked, it can require a lot of testing and retesting, which can take a significant amount of time and money. There are, however, some ways to use the partially hydrogenated oil ban to improve your restaurant:

  • Use it as a chance to rebrand or advertise your restaurant: The public is well informed about the harmful effects of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats, so using them in your restaurant could be keeping health-conscious diners away from your establishment. Once you remove all partially hydrogenated oils from your menu, why not run a marketing campaign advertising your efforts? It could be an incredible way to boost sales and attract a more diverse clientele.
  • Upgrade your menu items: Using processed products with partially hydrogenated oils can save you time in the kitchen, but customers can tell if something has come from a box and is of poor quality. Swap out manufactured, processed ingredients, like margarine and Crisco in pastries, for more wholesome butter, and start making more things from scratch. If the chicken strips you order from your supplier contain partially hydrogenated oil, consider creating a signature in-house recipe that sets your establishment apart from the other establishments that also use those same chicken strips. Your diners will be able to taste the difference. And if you are worried about the increased food cost, raise the prices on your menu. Many customers are happy to pay more for carefully prepared food made with good ingredients. Also, remember that if swapping out ingredients is challenging for you, a registered dietitian can help.
  • Include nutrition information on your menu: Once you’ve completely removed PHOs from your menu, it is a good idea to advertise that to your customers. Consider including a note on the menu that says your establishment is PHO-free. You could even take the opportunity to highlight some of the other healthy things about your restaurant’s food by using health claims or nutrient content claims on your menu to draw attention to the virtues of each dish. Using an online nutrition analysis software helps evaluate each of your recipes for the nutrient content claims they qualify for.

The bottom line is that customers care about the quality of the food they eat, so it’s important to inform them that you are indeed complying with the FDA’s guidelines and removing products containing PHOs before they are totally phased out of the industry.

The best thing about the PHO ban is that Americans will no longer be eating a substance that has the potential to harm their health. And while it may take some work to eliminate these oils from your kitchen—from the processed items you order to the items you make in-house—it is rewarding to know that by doing so, you are helping Americans live healthier, longer lives.

MenuCalc is an online nutrition analysis software designed specifically with the restaurant industry in mind. To try our free-trial or to get started with an account, contact us today. Short on time or staff? Our expert consultants can analyze your recipes for you.

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