Health Board Unanimously Makes Phase-out Mandatory After Voluntary Effort Stalls

The Westchester County, NY, Board of Health voted unanimously today to require restaurants to phase out their use of artificial trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, for deep-frying. The county joins New York City; Nassau County, NY; Philadelphia; King County (Seattle), Wash.; Montgomery County, Md.; and Brookline, Mass., in passing measures to get rid of what health experts say is a dangerous and unnecessary substance in the food supply. The Westchester move follows months of efforts by county officials to encourage restaurants to switch to natural, healthier oils voluntarily. However, unlike those other jurisdictions, Westchester didn’t address the trans fat in cookies, cakes, pie crusts, and other non-fried foods—however the easiest changes and the biggest benefits come from changing the frying oil.

“There is really no excuse to deep-fry foods in chemically altered artificial trans fats when heart-healthy frying oils are plentiful and the switch is so easy to make,” said Julie Greenstein, CSPI’s deputy director of health policy. “Westchester County deserves a lot of credit for trying to get restaurants to switch voluntarily, but dinosaurs like Burger King, as well as many local independent restaurants, are stuck in the past. As long as the federal government fails to act, New York and other states should act on their own to get rid of artificial trans fat.”

Though small amounts of trans fats do occur naturally in some foods, most trans fat in the American diet comes from industrially produced partially hydrogenated oils. McDonald’s, KFC, Wendy’s, and other chains have already abandoned them for deep-frying, or are at least finalizing their plans to switch to healthier oils. CSPI asked the Food and Drug Administration to phase out artificial trans fats in 2004 but the agency has taken no action.