NYC Eateries Ready for Trans Fat Switch

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 26, 2007; 8:39 PM

NEW YORK -- No more trans fats with those french fries? No problem. The city's ballyhooed ban on trans fat cooking oils in all New York restaurants _ an idea that gave chefs indigestion when first proposed _ seems to be going surprisingly smoothly. Across the city, most fast food chains say they've already made the switch days before the July 1 deadline, which is Sunday.

The same cannot be said for a second restaurant rule taking effect then: the posting of calories on fast-food menus. The major chains are defying that regulation and hope a lawsuit will overturn it.

The city doesn't plan to fine anyone for violating either rule until Oct. 1.

Still, the trans fat overhaul is viewed as a major victory by health advocates. Trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, clog arteries and contribute to heart disease. But they are also cheaper and have a longer shelf life, so industry at first stubbornly resisted dumping them.

That began to change last winter.

Cooking oil companies had already ramped up production of trans-fat alternatives. Restaurant supply companies began stocking kitchens with replacement products.

Big fast food chains that relied heavily on the old oils, from Burger King to Carl's Jr. to Kentucky Fried Chicken, announced they would eliminate the stuff from their fryers nationwide.

Even McDonald's, which had anguished over the potential impact on its french fries, said its phase-in of the new oils in thousands of restaurants has gone unnoticed by customers.

"The transition has been absolutely seamless," said spokesman Walt Riker.

While the city health department hasn't finished tallying results of a recent survey on oil use, there is evidence that smaller restaurants are ready too.

A special help line, set up by the city for chefs trying to reform their kitchens, has been lightly used.

The ease of the switch to zero-trans oils may have been aided by the behind-the-scenes work of seed and oil companies.

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