Trans-fat ban fazes popcorn makers
MICROWAVE-POPCORN makers could face a long and difficult task ridding their snacks of trans fats, if a United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposal to ban the additive goes into effect. Just ask Orville Redenbacher's.
Redenbacher's, a division of ConAgra Foods, spent six years changing its leading line of popcorn, company scientists said after the FDA made its proposal, which the government said would save 7,000 lives a year.
The Popcorn Board, an industry trade group, said Americans munch on 18 billion litres of popped popcorn a year, and more than two thirds of that is eaten at home.
Unpopped kernels worth US$985.7 million (S$1.2 billion) were sold in 2010, down 2.2 per cent from five years earlier. Popcorn is the source of a substantial amount of the trans fats consumed by Americans.
Diamond Foods - owner of Pop Secret - and the American Pop Corn Company - owner of Jolly Time - still use the suspect fats in some products.
Redenbacher's ditched the fats in all its products from 2006, because of health concerns.
Initial research and development for switching to a trans-fat-free oil took four years. It then took two more years to change the entire product line.
"We've mastered it, and I'm not going to tell you how we did it," said Ms Pamela Newell, a senior director of product development at ConAgra. It took "a lot of money", she added, as many replacement oil blends limited or reduced the flavour of the popcorn.
Partially hydrogenated oils, the primary source of the fats in foods, have long been prized by microwavable-popcorn companies for their high melting point. The fats keep the oil solid until the package is heated, so unpopped bags don't ooze.
They also provide a taste and texture in the mouth which are not easy to replicate, popcorn-makers say. But when consumed, trans fats increase bad cholesterol, a leading cause of coronary-artery disease.
Since 2005, trans-fat use has fallen precipitously - the Grocery Manufacturers Association said manufacturers have voluntarily lowered the amount of trans fats in their food products by more than 73 per cent. But further reduction could prevent 20,000 heart attacks as well as the 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year, the FDA said.
The proposed ban would follow more limited restrictions across the country. New York City banned the use of trans fats in restaurants, including their use for deep-frying foods, and many restaurants and fast-food chains, including McDonald's, have eliminated their use.