Consumers Being Fed Trans Fats By Those Who Should Know Better

CSPI, the watchdog organization headed by crusading consumer advocate, Michael Jacobson, found that cafeterias at some of America’s leading hospitals are serving French fries that contain trans fats.According to a report in USA TODAY, Jacobson, the group’s executive director, says that even the cafeteria at the U.S. Department of Agriculture serves French fries cooked in partially hydrogenated oil that contains trans fats.Trans fatty acids — fats that form when liquid vegetable oils are processed or hydrogenated — are found in many fried and processed foods. They decrease good (HDL) cholesterol and increase bad (LDL) cholesterol.

CSPI’s effort to increase awareness appears to be paying off. For example: The public-interest center “raised a good point, so we are working with our food vendor to remove trans fats from all our menu items as soon as possible,” says Krista Hopson, a spokeswoman for the University of Michigan Health System.

And as of today, the USDA will begin serving fries cooked in trans-fat-free canola oil, says Cheryl Queen, a spokeswoman for Restaurant Associates Managed Services, the agency’s food provider.

Some hospitals have already switched oils as well. The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is going to switch to a trans-fat-free production process, spokeswoman Rebecca Harmon says.

CSPI exposed the cooking methods by sending medical students and others to buy two orders of French fries at leading children’s hospitals, medical centers, and three government agencies in October, November, and December of 2005.

A laboratory analysis of the fries found that many hospital cafeterias served fries that had an average of 4 to 6 grams of trans fats in 6 ounces. A large (6-ounce) serving of McDonalds’s fries have 8 grams of trans fats.

According to Jacobson, fried from other hospital cafeterias served fries that had 2 grams or less of trans fats, showing that the fries were fried in partially hydrogenated oil by the manufacturer first, then deep-fried in non-hydrogenated oil by cooks in the cafeteria. “Trans fat has as much place in hospitals’ cafeterias as ashtrays have in their operating rooms,” he says.

The fries from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.’s cafeteria had 5.8 grams of trans fat in a 6-ounce serving, while the fries at the cafeterias at the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration had only a trace of trans fat.

“Five to 6 grams of trans fat is a huge amount just from one serving,” says Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Food services usually use the same oils for cooking fish, chicken and other foods as they do fries, so if they’ve got the high level in fries, they’ve got it in lots of foods.

“People should be able to assume that hospitals are serving them the healthiest food possible,” Willett says. “In this case, their trust has clearly been betrayed.”

Jacobson recommends that cafeterias switch to cooking in heart-healthier oils such as liquid canola, soy, or peanut and buy fries that have been precooked in healthier oils. (Source: USA TODAY 2/7/06)

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