Burger King and Wendy's Fries Flunk Trans Fat Test in New York City

Lab Tests Show McDonald's Fries are Virtually Trans-Fat-Free in the Big Apple!


WASHINGTON—Though New York City now requires restaurants to use trans-fat-free frying oils, Burger King and Wendy’s are still serving New Yorkers French fries with more trans fat than is safe to consume in an entire day, according to new test results. McDonald’s French fries in New York City are virtually trans-free and have the least saturated fat of the three chains as well.

In mid-July, CSPI purchased large orders of fries from five different McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s outlets in Manhattan and had an independent laboratory analyze them. McDonald’s had the least trans fat (0.2 grams per serving). Wendy’s had 3.7 grams per serving, and Burger King had 3.3 grams per serving (though Wendy’s serving size was 25-percent larger than Burger King’s).

The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the American Heart Association, and various other health authorities recommend that people consume no more than 2 grams of trans fat per day. That’s about as much as occurs naturally in milk and meat, leaving virtually no room for artificial trans fat from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Like saturated fat, trans fat raises “bad” cholesterol that promotes heart disease. But unlike saturated fat, trans fat also lowers the “good” cholesterol that helps guard against heart disease.

The new lab results don’t necessarily mean that Burger King and Wendy’s are violating New York City’s new requirement. In fact, the French fries from these two chains have about half as much trans fat as they used to, which suggests that the two chains’ suppliers are still using partially hydrogenated oils to par-fry the fries before they are shipped to individual restaurants. But by July 1, 2008, restaurants will have to limit artificial trans fat to less than half a gram per serving in all foods.

“French fries are fried twice, once in the factory and once in the restaurant,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “If these chains want to claim they are switching to trans-fat-free frying oil, they need to switch it at the supplier as well as at the restaurant. Burger King and Wendy’s are really deceiving consumers with the public statements they’ve made about trans fat, which don’t tell the whole story. McDonald’s, on the other hand, has proven that restaurants can truly eliminate artificial trans fat.”

In addition to switching to trans-fat-free fries in New York City, McDonald’s has switched in a number of other cities, but isn’t disclosing which.

Last spring, after negotiations did not bear fruit, CSPI filed suit against Burger King over its continued use of partially hydrogenated oil for deep-frying and other cooking. Outside New York City and other test markets, a King-size Onion Rings has 6 grams of trans fat. A regular-size order of Chicken Tenders with a large order of French fries has 8 grams of trans. And Burger King’s Sausage Biscuit combined with a large order of Hash Browns has an astounding 18 grams of trans fat—more than someone should consume in 9 days.

In June 2006, Wendy’s earned praise from CSPI when the chain announced plans to all but eliminate trans fat from its fried foods. But testing done by Consumers Union in November 2006 found 2.5 grams of trans fat in a large order of fries. CSPI’s new tests—conducted more than a year after the announcement—found even more.

“Wendy’s needs to correct the trans fat information it has on its web site and elsewhere, and keep the promise it made last year,” said Jacobson.

CSPI has been organizing efforts to phase artificial trans fat out of the food supply, starting with its successful campaign to get trans fat listed on the Nutrition Facts labels of supermarket foods. That spurred many, though not all, food manufacturers to abandon partially hydrogenated oils in favor of healthier oil blends. CSPI has also encouraged cities and counties to adopt regulations requiring restaurants to phase out partially hydrogenated oils in restaurants. So far, New York City, Philadelphia, and at least three counties have done so.

CSPI intends to do more trans fat testing, both in jurisdictions that are phasing out artificial trans fat and elsewhere, to monitor restaurant chains’ progress.