Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Penn hospital says not to worry: No more trans-fat fries

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania says french fries made with unhealthy trans fats were never served to patients - just to unwitting staff and doctors, it seems - and haven't been served to anybody since the HUP cafeteria began undergoing renovations in late November.

That response comes courtesy of my colleague, reporter John Sullivan, whose article on the killer fries in hospitals appeared in yesterday's Inquirer.

HUP says that once its new cafeteria is done, it will serve fries without trans fats.

Kudos to the Center for Science in the Public Interest for conducting its little study. It demonstrates the huge gulf between standards for labeling most packaged foods, which since Jan. 1 have been required to list trans fats on ingredient labels if a product is intended for interstate commerce, and the complete lack of knowledge we have about the content of most restaurant or food-service foods. Even if they were shipped in labeled packages, how are you going to know? Dig through the trash for labels that refer to "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil"?

Trans fats don't exist in nature - they're chemically altered fats. There's a growing mountain of evidence that they increase cardiovascular risks at any level in your diet. Yet some hospitals weren't even bothering to cross them off the shopping list.

There was one saving grace for HUP, though. As Sullivan's article notes, Massachusetts General in Boston originally led the list of hospitals with trans-fat-laden fries. But when hospital officials found out the "food police" were on the case, they made sure the kitchen switched to trans-fat-free cooking oil.

For more information about trans fats, the Food and Drug Administration has an excellent Q&A page.


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