Trans fat is officially on the way out. The Food and Drug Administration announced today that food companies will need to remove the ingredient from food they make, citing the known harmful effects of trans fat on health.
The agency determined that trans fat is not "generally recognized as safe" to be added to food, meaning that trans fat will now be considered illegal food additives. Companies now have three years to either remove trans fat from their food, or petition the FDA to request permission to use trans fat for specific cases.
The FDA first proposed banning trans fat as a food additive in 2013, and the new announcement finalizes that decision.
"We made this determination based on the available scientific evidence and the findings of expert panels," Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement. "Studies show that diet and nutrition play a key role in preventing chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease and today’s action goes hand in hand with other FDA initiatives to improve the health of Americans," Mayne said.
Studies have found that trans fat increases people's levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, and decreases levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol, according to Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer watchdog group that has advocated for the removal of trans fat. [3 Tips for Eating Less Trans Fat]
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that removing trans fat could prevent up to 20,000 heart attacks, and 7,000 deaths from heart disease, each year in the U.S.
Since 2006, food companies have been required to list the amount of trans fat that foods contain on their labels, and in recent years, many food companies and fast-food restaurants have reduced trans fat in their products, or removed it altogether.
As a result, the amount of trans fat that people in the U.S. consume has decreased significantly — between 2003 and 2012, the FDA estimates that trans fat consumption declined by about 78 percent.
But trans fat has lingered in some processed foods, including some brands of microwave popcorn, baked goods, refrigerated dough and coffee creamers.
Because of the new decision, companies cannot add partially hydrogenated oils, the major source of trans fat, to foods, without permission. But trans fat won't be completely gone because it occurs naturally in small amounts in meat and dairy products, and is present in low levels in some oils, the FDA said.