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Cooking oil in a plastic bottles

With consumer groups and health authorities across the world calling for tighter controls on the use of trans fatty acids (TFA), also known as trans fats, the European Parliament has recently asked the EU Commission to set a Europe-wide limit within two years.

With the introduction of a maximum limit, the EU will join a growing list of countries and organizations recommending a reduction in the levels of, or legislating against the use of, TFA in foods.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued recommendations on a balanced diet that included the advice that TFA should be limited to less than 1% of overall energy intake. Denmark then became the first country in the world to introduce a statutory limit for TFA. Introduced in 2003, Denmark allows a maximum upper limit of two percent for TFA. Since then, Denmark has been joined by Austria in 2009, Hungary in 2013, and Latvia in 2015.

Exceptions Exist

Not all countries have legislated against TFA. The United Kingdom, for example, has seen calls from both the Food Standards Agency, in 2004, and the British Medical Journal, in 2006, demanding better labeling of TFA, and several companies have voluntarily removed or reduced TFA in their products.

Action in North America

In the US, authorities have required manufacturers to state the levels of TFA on all food packaging for a number of years. In June 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that partially hardened oils should be considered “generally not safe” and, from June 2018, their use in foodstuffs will be prohibited. In November 2016, Canada proposed a ban on partially hydrogenated oils and opened a consultation. The results of the consultation, which ended in January, are awaited.

Consumption Carries Risk

Countries and authorities are responding to evidence that the consumption of TFA leads to an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease. A report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2002, determined that there was no safe level for TFA consumption, since they are, “not essential and provide no known benefit to human health”. They also concluded that TFA actively lower HDL cholesterol, so-called ‘good’ cholesterol, and therefore increase the risk of chronic heart disease.

Naturally Occurring, Technologically Created

TFA are a form of unsaturated fat that can occur naturally or through technological processes in food fats. For example, the milk and body fat of ruminants, such as cows and sheep, contain TFA at a level of 2-5% of total fat. They are also high in refined, particularly hardened (partially hydrogenated), vegetable oils and fats. TFA are also used during heating or storage of oils, fats and fatty foods. Products that contain high levels of TFA include: cooking oils and fats, convenience foods, margarine, pre-packaged bakery products, microwave popcorn, deep-fried foods, and soups and sauces.

With some countries already demanding a more stringent approach to TFA, many companies will already have in place procedures that include laboratory-based detection for TFA in foodstuffs. This has been particularly important for export and international declarations. However, with legislative coverage being variable, not all producers will have been subject to legal regulations and, with the EU introducing limits within two years, they should now make sure their products are compliant by switching manufacturing processes, changing formulas and/or replacing suppliers.

Testing and Analysis

SGS’s global network of laboratories offers manufacturers and food retailers the full range of analysis tests for detecting TFA. SGS uses gas chromatography to provide saturated, mono, polyunsaturated, trans fatty acids and fatty acid profiles to help stakeholders get ready for the new EU regulations.

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Claudia Koch
Business Development Manager
t: +49 40 301 01 667