In December 2006, New York City became the first city in the U.S. to ban the use of trans fat in fried foods and spreads (cannot contain more than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving). The city ordinance, Section 81.08 of the New York City Health Code, bans trans fat in non-fried foods such as baked goods by July 2008.
Restaurants must provide health inspectors with labels for all products in their cupboards, showing the amount of trans fat, whether or not the product is merely in storage or used for cooking. The ordinance does not apply to packaged foods already labeled by the manufacturer and served directly to customers.
Trans fat is contained in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. In an industrial process, hydrogen atoms are injected into regular oil, making the oil thicker and more solid. In this way, cheaper vegetable oil can be made to mimic butter or lard, and thus provide a chewy crispness to food traditionally made with butter or lard, such as cookies, French fries, and fried chicken.
However, this artificially thicker oil clogs up arteries. Studies have shown that a 2 percent increase in trans-fat could cause a 25 percent increase in the likelihood of developing heart disease.
To enforce the ordinance, the New York City assesses fines between $200 and $2,000. Also, trans fat violations may be posted on the health department’s website. Since 2006, the city reports that nearly all of its 25,000 restaurants have been compliant. There has been little traction for a New York lawyer to contest the ban, as convincing a jury that profit margins outweigh the health risks are dubious.
Trans fat bans have moved across New York state from county to county, remaining on the local ordinance level, such as Westchester, Albany, Buffalo, and Nassau.