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Some restaurants moved quickly, too, such as Beaumont, Texas-based Jason’s Deli. The chain, which now has 242-units, spent the better part of a decade eliminating partially hydrogenated oils from its menu. Jason’s Deli reformulated about 50 products, including its bread, and finally rolled out a menu free of trans fats in 2005, according to Pat Herring, the chain’s director of product and concept.

“It was in bread and crackers and oily things,” Herring said, noting that the hardest part was getting partially hydrogenated oils out of shelf-stable baked goods such as ice cream cones and the crackers at the salad bar. The chain also took production of the whipped topping for its strawberry shortcake in-house. 

“All the whipped toppings at the time were fortified with shortening,” he said. So before the rollout they shipped tabletop mixers to each chain and had them whip the cream in-house.

“It was similar cost and a much, much better product,” Herring said.

Brooks Broadhurst, senior vice president of food at beverage at Eat ’n Park, a 71-unit family dining chain based in the Pittsburgh suburb of Homestead, Pa., said he spent around 18 months removing artificial trans fats in the middle of the last decade. He said he spent time with his oil supplier and Pennsylvania State University to test different frying oils, and then got to work reformulating the chain’s signature Smiley Cookie, which Eat ’n Park makes in its own commercial bakery.

“We basically just did it, and didn’t make any noise about it, because we wanted to see if our customers noticed or not,” he said. “We didn’t have any customers say one way or another whether [the new formulations were] better or worse.”

Both Broadhurst and Herring said that adhering to a possible FDA ban on PHOs shouldn’t have much of a negative impact on restaurants. “It certainly is a lot easier to do today than it was eight or nine years ago,” Broadhurst said. “I think a lot of chains have already made the changes they needed to make because of local regulations or because of the push that was made in 2007, 2008, 2009 from a health standpoint.” 

And since that time, more products free of trans fats have become available to restaurants, pointed out Herring. “There are way more products out there today than when we started,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t be afraid of it. In the long term, I think you’re going to have higher quality food in your restaurant.”

Noveshen advised small chains that have not already eliminated PHOs to make sure they know what types of fats they’re using and change them if necessary. This will likely involve some recipe tweaking, he said, but they just need to work with their distributors to determine what alternatives are available. 

“The stuff’s out there. They just have to do it,” he said.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary