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Dining halls eliminating Trans-fat

By Kathleen McWilliams
On November 21, 2013

  • Natalia Pylypyszyn/The Daily Campus. Dining services is working to remove all trans-fat from the food served in dinning halls. Current ab

Prior to the Nov. 7 announcement from the Food and Drug Administration that they planned to eliminate all trans-fat from manufactured foods, the University of Connecticut Dining Services has been actively eliminating trans-fat since last August.
"A year ago we started to look at trans-fats. We knew this was on the rise," said Dennis Pierce, director of dining services.
Trans-fats, unsaturated fats that are artificially produced, have gained notoriety in the past few years after research that had previously thought partially hydrogenated trans-fat, such as Crisco, was healthier than animal fats, such as butter. However, recent research from the FDA has found that trans-fats can cause coronary heart disease, high cholesterol and is linked to cancer, infertility in women, Alzheimer's, obesity and diabetes. Previously, despite banning of the substance in Iceland, Switzerland and Denmark, the FDA considered trans-fats "generally safe." In their recent proposal, however, the FDA said that banning trans-fat would result in 2,000 fewer heart attacks and 7,000 fewer deaths from heart disease every year.
In August of this year, Pierce contacted the UConn Department of Nutritional Sciences and assembled a team of students who researched the over 9,000 recipes in the dining services database and all of their ingredients, as well as the manufacturers of certain foods.
Their research led the way for the UConn Bakery to eliminate 100 percent of trans-fats. Currently, of the 180,000 meals dining services serves weekly, only 10 percent of food items contain trans-fats and Pierce's goal is to have all trans-fats eliminated by Summer 2014.
"Probably by the end of the summer all of it will be trans-fat free," Pierce said.
One of the challenges of this goal, however, is getting manufacturers to switch out trans-fats or other unappealing ingredients for healthier options.
"Companies based on recipes may find challenges coming from a pricing perspective," Pierce said. "If a commodity becomes scarce it can be challenging to find a substitute."
Because dining services serves two categories of food: scratch, made from whole ingredients in the kitchen, and convenience, items purchased from a manufacturer for a quick meal, they have targeted convenience items in their elimination of trans-fats. Common items that have trans-fats are often those convenient to cook, such as French fries, pancake mix and other fried foods.
Pierce said that this is an ongoing challenge at dining services and the FDA regulation, when it goes into effect, will be beneficial to their mission.
"It's a positive thing for the FDA. It forces the manufacturer to change," said Pierce.
Pierce also said that dining services works in tune with the FDA, and often a step ahead as evidenced by their handling of trans-fats.
"We have an internal share point," Pierce said. "We have a live stream that comes in from the FDA that shows all recalls. You'd be surprised by what things don't hit the media."
At the end of the day, Pierce and his team work to bring healthy food to fuel students' studies.
"When a student has issues or has feelings about food, it's our obligation to provide them with options," Pierce said.

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