FDA Eyes Ban for Artificial Trans Fats

The Food and Drug Administration plans to ban the food industry from using artificial trans fats, the agency announced Thursday.

The move to phase out the use of trans fats is subject to a 60-day comment period, during which the FDA will seek input from food manufacturers to find out how long it might take them to reformulate products. The FDA didn’t provide an initial timeline.

Although trans fats have been fading from the nation’s diet over the last decade, the decision to outright ban their use could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths, Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said.

“The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat,” said Hamburg, who called partially hydrogenated oils “a significant public health concern.”

According to WebMD, trans fats are common in some frozen foods, cake mixes, soups, spreads and microwave popcorn.

Restaurants sometimes use trans fats when frying. Many large chains have already stopped using the fats, but smaller restaurants in particular may receive food from suppliers that already contain trans fats.

Trans fats began their decline in 2006, when the FDA introduced a nutrition label that lists them separately.

Meanwhile, some cities have banned them, and companies like Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) are already working to phase them out. The retailer said it would stop selling foods with artificial trans fats by 2016.

Eateries and makers of packaged foods may turn to other types of fats that the FDA considers “generally recognized as safe.” Once that designation is dropped for trans fats, anyone seeking to use them would have to petition the FDA.

The FDA’s new rule doesn’t apply to trans fat that naturally occurs in small amounts in certain meat and dairy products.