FDA’s New View of Partially Hydrogenated Oils

On November 7, 2013 FDA published a ‘Request for Comments and for Scientific Data and Information’ regarding the use of partially hydrogenated oils in foods.  The FDA has reviewed the scientific data and has determined that there is no longer scientific consensus on the safety of partially hydrogenated oils due to the presence of artificial trans fats in those oils. (Note that fully hydrogenated oils do not contain trans fats.)  Since there is not a consensus on the safety of partially hydrogenated oils, FDA is poised to declare that these oils as no longer generally regarded as safe (GRAS).  Once the GRAS status is so rescinded, partially hydrogenated oils would not be allowed in food products sold in the US.

Partially hydrogenated oils were invented in the 1930’s and have been considered GRAS since they were in common use prior to the 1958 Food Additives Amendment to the FD&C Act. It was even thought that partially hydrogenated vegetable oils were ‘healthier’ than dairy and other animal fats that they replaced in many products; particularly baked goods.

Oils are partially hydrogenated to increase their solidity and melting temperature and to increase the shelf life of the products they are used in.  These effects are all gained when the double bonds in unsaturated vegetable oils are converted into single bonds by the addition of hydrogen.  Partially hydrogenated oils can result in some trans fat bond conformations that are not readily broken down by the body’s enzymes, leading to build up of these fats in the body.

When FDA began requiring that the amounts of trans fatty acids be declared in the nutrition facts panel in 2006, many food products were reformulated just enough to bring trans fat levels below the 0.5 gram threshold of declaration.  Many consumer groups were outraged that 0.499 grams of trans fat were required by regulation to be declared as 0 grams of trans fat and FDA has been pressured to take further steps since then.  A suit was filed in California seeking to force FDA to take steps to remove trans fat from the US food supply.

Most of our clients don’t use trans fatty acids. However, in the course of our detailed label and ingredient reviews, we have sometimes found that ingredient suppliers were not being entirely upfront with their customers.  Some only provide nutritional information on a very small amount of their fats and oils. In doing so, they can list trans fats as zero. So what is a food-producer to do?

  1. Understand that it is only artificial trans fats that are harmful and they come from partially hydrogenated oils
  2. Always, always, ask for detailed specifications and certificates of analysis for every ingredient in your product.
  3. Read the specifications and certificates of analysis and ask questions about anything you do not understand.
  4. Write detailed specifications for your product that ensure that only the quality of ingredient you want is used in your product so that it will not trans fats or any other ingredient/component your customers may wish to avoid.

You can read more about FDA’s proposal to rescind the GRAS status of partially hydrogenated oils.  For a summary aimed at consumers, visit FDA’s article on opening a 60-dat measure to further reduce trans fat in processed foods. For the full announcement in the Federal Register, learn more here.

You Might Also Like

Compliance Simplified

We'll help you cut through the red tape.