Boston Bans Trans Fat in Restaurants

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In March 2008, Boston followed in New York City’s steps in banning trans fat for use in restaurants.  Boston Public Health Commission's Board of Health voted on and approved the regulation.  Restaurants may no longer use oils containing trans fat for sautéing, frying, or as a spread. 

Starting in March 2009, Boston restaurants may no longer use trans fat in the preparation of baked goods, such as donuts.  In addition, all other service foods containing trans fat must be eliminated.  Pre-packaged foods containing trans fat can be sold, however.  Violators of the prohibition will face fines of up to $1,000 for each violation. 

To make trans fat, oil is “hydrogenated.”  Hydrogen is blown into liquid oil, thickening and solidifying it.  Then, this “shortening” (for a crumbly or “short” texture) can be used in products that normally require butter or lard, such as cake frosting, cookies, and deep-fried foods.  However, this artificially thicker oil clogs up arteries more than natural fat. 

There has been some public debate over whether the legal process used to approve the ban was undemocratic.  However, city officials are elected by citizens.  City agencies such as the board of health are given rule-making authority by ordinance.  As a necessary part of health officials’ jobs, they are given a certain degree of latitude to make decisions they feel, in their expert opinion, will be most beneficial to the health of the city. 

Some argue that the Boston city government is micromanaging people’s lives and taking away their civil liberty to eat what they want.  However, the regulation does not take away individual civil liberties, as Bostonians are still free to buy hydrogenated oils at the supermarket and cook at home.  In addition, much packaged food still contains trans fat, although manufacturers are self-regulating and cutting back on its use. 

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Last Modified: 06-06-2012 04:38 PM PDT

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