If you have ever eaten microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, or a cookie, chances are you have already consumed trans fat. Trans fats are created by hydrogenation, a process that creates trans fatty acids. A manufacturer adds hydrogen to vegetable oil during this process, which turns the oil into a solid fat and increases certain foods’ shelf life.
Philadelphia banned the use of oil containing more than half a gram of trans fat per serving in February 2007. In the first phase of the ban, eateries were prohibited from frying food with trans fat-based products or serving trans-fat-rich spreads. In the second stage, commercial kitchens were prohibited from using trans fats. However, prepackaged goods with clear labels were exempt.
As outlined in Section 6-307 of the Philadelphia Health Code, the ban was approved by the Philadelphia City Council, signed into law by the mayor, and enforced by the Department of Public Health. Trans fat violations are noted in health inspectors’ reports, but no fines are imposed. A violation is referred to as “general” rather than “critical,” meaning that there is no immediate risk to the community’s health.
The ban also applies to Philadelphia bars, cafeterias in schools and businesses, caterers, mobile food vending carts, senior and childcare centers, hospitals, concession stands, soup kitchens, and street fairs. No Philadelphia defective products lawyer has stepped forward to oppose the ban.
Trans fats, which are listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, can raise bad cholesterol and lower healthy cholesterol. New York City has a similar ban on trans fats.
The use of trans fats has already been reduced or eliminated in some chain restaurants and institutions, such as Starbucks and university dining halls.
The Health Department enforces Philly’s ban, but there are no penalties for violators. Prepackaged foods sold in city stores and restaurants will not be subject to the ban.
Every food facility must maintain a label for any food or food additive that contains fats, oils, or shortening (e.g., Crisco) on their premises.
Labeling Requirements for Trans Fats
As of July 2003, the FDA modified the “Nutrition Facts” label on packaged foods. Food manufacturers must now list trans fat content on their nutrition labels as of January 1, 2006.
In contrast, this Federal labeling rule allows manufacturers to list “zero” if the product contains less than half a gram of trans fat per serving. In this case, the product could still contain small amounts of shortening or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil while showing “zero” trans fat. Trans fat has no known nutritional value, so no percentage of the daily value (%DV) is listed.
Despite neither being voted on by Congress nor signed into law by the President, this Federal labeling rule illustrates how government agencies can issue rules and regulations with statutory force. However, the rule must be based on a statute or law over which the agency has authority. Also, the public must be given notice of the proposed rule so that people can object before the rule is issued.
Also, agencies like the FDA don’t make these rules without conducting research. In this case, the FDA relied on studies from the National Cholesterol Education Program, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academies of Science. Furthermore, the FDA collaborates with other government agencies, such as the DHHS and USDA, to create the best health regulations.
Scientific reports indicate that trans fat consumption raises “bad” cholesterol levels and causes coronary heart disease. Shortening, cookies, crackers, fried foods, snack foods, and other partially hydrogenated foods contain trans fat.
Lawsuits Involving Trans Fats
Trans fat was a little-known term in 2003 when San Francisco public interest lawyer Stephen Joseph learned about its dangers. He said margarine and other trans-fat foods contributed to his father’s death. At the time, these foods were believed to be healthy because they were “low in fat.”
A lawsuit was filed by Joseph against Nabisco as soon as possible.
An injunction (a court order prohibiting a party from doing something) was requested, prohibiting Oreo Cookies from using trans fat. When a product has a hidden danger, most people are unaware of it. For example, California allows lawsuits against the manufacturer. Trans fats are also hidden in Oreos, which are marketed to children.
As soon as Nabisco was served with a complaint, the media coverage of the lawsuit forced it to agree to an injunction. Joseph quickly dismissed the lawsuit. Since then, trans fat has become a worldwide concern, and other manufacturers of processed foods have voluntarily reduced the amount of trans fat in their products. A public interest lawsuit that generates publicity can have a far-reaching “domino effect.”
In 2003, Joseph sued McDonald’s, which announced in 2002 that it would reduce trans fat in its oil. Despite this, the company did not follow through with its announcement and allegedly failed to inform the public adequately. McDonald’s eventually agreed to reduce its trans fat content.
Afterward, this lawyer filed lawsuits against KFC and Burger King across the country. Most fast-food chains, including Wendy’s, Starbucks, and Taco Bell, actively develop and use trans-fat-free oils.
Trans Fat Facts
Trans fats are dietary fats. Trans fat is the worst fat for your health. You are more likely to develop heart disease and other health problems if you consume too much trans fat in your diet.
Trans fats are created when liquid oils are turned into solid fats, like shortening or margarine.
Many fried, “fast” packaged, or processed foods contain trans fats, including:
- Fried or battered foods
- Margarine and shortening
- Doughnuts, cakes, cake mixes, pies, and pie crust
Trans fats are found in small amounts in animal foods, such as red meat and dairy. However, processed foods are the main source of trans fats.
Trans fats are not needed or beneficial to your body. These fats increase your risk of health problems.
Trans fat can make you gain weight if you consume too much of it. It may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight.
Trans fat is not necessary for your body. As a result, you should eat as little as possible.
The American Heart Association and the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the following:
- Fat shouldn’t make up more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories.
- Saturated fat should not exceed 10% of your daily calories.
- Less than 1% of your daily calories should come from trans fat. In a 2,000-calorie diet, this is about 20 calories or 2 grams.
What Should I Do If I Suspect a Violation?
When a restaurant or food facility violates an ordinance, it is usually up to a government agency, such as a state consumer protection bureau or the FDA, to enforce the law and punish the offender accordingly.
An experienced Philadelphia defective products lawyer can help you navigate the necessary procedures to submit a complaint to your local government agency or file a lawsuit against the offending food facility. Your lawyer can also explain how state laws may affect your case and the potential remedies based on varying outcomes. Often, these cases only result in an equitable remedy, such as an injunction or a cease and desist order.
However, a plaintiff who pursues a case may be able to collect an award of attorneys’ fees and costs. To learn more about your rights and options for legal recourse under Pennsylvania law, you should contact a lawyer immediately to ensure your time to file a claim does not expire.