A proposed ban by the Food and Drug Administration of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), the main source of trans fats, could require restaurants to reformulate many of their recipes for fried foods and baked goods, but much of the hard work was accomplished years ago, according to industry experts. 

Earlier this month the FDA tentatively determined that PHOs are no longer “generally recognized as safe,” a designation necessary for an ingredient to be added to food without explicit FDA approval. The government agency is now seeking commentary from the public before making a final determination.

“The good news is that the oil companies have really done a lot of the work ahead and have produced trans fat–free oils that replicate the needed factors that the artificial trans fat oils were fulfilling,” said Aaron Noveshen, founder and president of The Culinary Edge, a restaurant and food business consulting company based in San Francisco.

Partially hydrogenated oils, made by treating oil with hydrogen gas, were added to food decades ago as a less expensive alternative to saturated fats, adding desirable mouth feel to baked goods and extending the shelf life of frying oils. They were also believed to be more healthful, but over the years evidence mounted that the artificial trans fats produced through partial hydrogenation contributed to cardiovascular disease.

The FDA determination does not include trans fats that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products. 

Artificial trans fats have been under fire since the mid-1990s as evidence of their unhealthfulness grew. The FDA ruled in 2003 that packaged foods’ nutrition labels must list trans fat content, and in 2005, New York City became the first jurisdiction to ban artificial trans fats in restaurants. Cleveland, Philadelphia and other cities, along with the state of California, followed suit.

“Most companies have been trying to be trans fat free for awhile now,” said Roger Kaplan, head of Restaurant Innovations, a Dallas-based consulting firm. “That’s been a focus for a lot of companies and a lot of manufacturers.”

Noveshen said that many manufacturers, required to reformulate their products for some market, went ahead and made the changes systemwide.