As FDA seeks trans fats ban, Evanston restaurants have cut down ingredient

Edward Cox, Reporter

Evanston restaurants and food makers will have to get rid of trans fats in their products should the Food and Drug Administration’s steps to ban the ingredient come to fruition.

The FDA cited the safety hazards of trans fats Thursday as it prepared to outlaw the substance, which Evanston restaurant managers acknowledged has been reduced in their foods through a greater awareness of its harmful effects. Scaling back trans fats could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease a year, according to the FDA. 

Evanston restaurant owners shared the government agency’s sentiment toward trans fats. Lucky Platter owner Eric Singer told The Daily his restaurant does not use trans fats, but larger restaurant chains may see the ingredient as a cheap way to make their dishes more appealing.

Trans fats are used to give foods texture, flavor and a longer shelf life. Once the FDA mandated that restaurants show trans fat content in food, many chains like McDonald’s replaced trans fats with other ingredients.

“The FDA is 100 percent right on this one,” Singer said. “These are just some issues the government should have gotten on 10 years ago.”

Some states and city governments have already taken steps to ban trans fats in food. New York City banned the ingredient’s use in 2007, and California became the first state to do so a year later. A proposed ban of trans fats in Illinois failed to pass the General Assembly in 2011.

Carl Caneva, assistant director of the Evanston Health Department, said the ban on trans fats, also known as hydrogenated oils, would benefit public health. He identified microwavable popcorn and donuts as food products that use trans fats as an ingredient.

If the federal government ban goes into effect, trans fats would be eliminated in the food manufacturing process, Caneva said. Nevertheless, food scientists would likely find replacements for trans fats that would maintain the taste of traditional trans fat foods, he said.

“All the research they have done has shown that it is not safe,” Caneva said. “Just like requiring people to put on a safety belt before they drive, this is all about prevention.”

Some Evanston restaurants that use deep frying, a cooking technique that involves trans fats, switched to healthier modes of cooking after realizing public awareness of the side effects of the ingredients was growing.

Mustard’s Last Stand owner Steve Starkman said that although the restaurant at 1613 Central Street has switched to healthier modes of cooking such as grilling, its french fries may contain trans fat. If the federal government bans trans fats, the restaurant will cut the ingredient, he said.

D & D Finer Foods owner Kosta Douvikas said his fast food restaurant at 825 Noyes St. stopped using trans fat oils three years ago. After the company ended its practice of deep frying, there was no change in the price of menu items, he said.

“(Trans fats) was part of what we ate,” Douvikas said. “I hope the government passes this and big corporations don’t lobby. I don’t see any harm in getting rid of it.”

The Greek Fire Grill, 1625 Chicago Ave., also stopped using trans fats in deep frying in 2008 or 2009, said Matthew Douvikas, general manager of the fast food restaurant. The restaurant grills its food, which provides a healthier alternative to trans fats.

Although Matthew Douvikas acknowledges trans fats pose a health concern, he said he believes restaurant owners should take their own initiatives in banning the substance instead of the federal government.

“The government should stay out of the way of private businesses … (but) this is not to be confused with no government intervention when it comes to providing a safe working environment and using safe products,” Douvikas said.

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