« August 2005 Table of Contents Pin It

Seafood FAQ: Trans fats are next big health concern

Seafood manufacturers meet consumer demand for trans-fat-free products

Gorton's spent almost a year transforming its products to trans-fat-free status.
Fiona Robinson
August 01, 2005

The January 2006 deadline looms for seafood processors to list trans-fatty acid content on the Nutrition Facts panel on product labels.  As a result, more seafood manufacturers are reformulating ingredients to eliminate the fat from their products. Processors that have introduced trans-fat-free frozen seafood products in the past year include Gorton’s and King & Prince Seafood Corp.

And, as more manufacturers of seafood and other foods advertise their trans-fat-free products, consumers are growing more aware that trans fats should be avoided. The Food Marketing Institute reported at its annual trade show in May that trans-fatty acids will be the next big consumer health concern. Research NPD Foodworld’s Dieting Monitor released in June shows that 44.7 percent of adults are trying to cut down on trans fats and 15.1 percent are trying to avoid them completely.

Here is a primer for manufacturers who have yet to jump on the trans-fat-free bandwagon, and for retailers who may be fielding questions about products on their shelves.

Q. What are trans-fatty acids? 

Trans fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Trans fats are formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats, such as shortening and margarine. They also occur naturally in some meat and dairy products. Commercial production of partially hydrogenated fats began in the early 20th century and increased steadily until about the 1960s as processed vegetable fats replaced animal fats in the consumer’s diet, says the Harvard School of Public Health.

Q. What is the main source of trans fats for U.S. consumers? 

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils provide about three-quarters of the trans-fatty acids in the U.S. consumer’s diet, according to the American Heart Association. Trans fats from all sources provide 2 to 4 percent of total calories, compared with 12 percent from saturated fat and 34 percent from total fat, says the International Food Information Council.

Q. How do trans fats affect blood cholesterol? 

Trans-fatty acid consumption increases LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, in the blood. Elevated LDL levels raise the risk of developing coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Q. Where are trans fats found? 

In vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies and other foods made with or fried in partially hydrogenated fats.

Q. How can consumers find the trans-fat content of a product? 

Trans-fatty acid amounts are listed under saturated fat in the “Total Fat” area of the Nutrition Facts panel.

Q. What is considered a “safe” amount of trans-fats? 

The FDA does not give specific recommendations on how many trans fats are safe to consume but instead recommends choosing foods low in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as part of a healthful diet.

Q. Is it easy to eliminate trans-fatty acids from processed seafood or other products? 

Not necessarily, according to Judson Reis, VP of marketing at Gorton’s in Gloucester, Mass. In fall 2004, the company launched production of trans-fat-free products, which began appearing on store shelves in January. Gorton’s spent almost a year reformulating and testing all 56 items in the line, says Reis. Its entire supply chain was researched to see what ingredients had trans-fats, included cooking oils and shortenings.

Eliminating trans fats not only required that the manufacturer change ingredients, but also some equipment on the processing line. Gorton’s installed more efficient freezers and shortened the packaging lines so product stays solidly frozen, says Donald Lynch, Gorton’s VP of research, development and quality assurance. Non-hydrogenated oils tend to be “softer” and turn to liquid faster than hydrogenated oils, he adds.

“There was more product development than anticipated, but we believe it was the right thing to do for our customers. We have had very positive feedback and [the trans-fat-free products] have been good for Gorton’s in the marketplace,” says Reis.

Q. What oils are used in food manufacturing to eliminate trans fats? 

Non-hydrogenated oils or shortening are used instead of hydrogenated to produce trans-fat-free products. Gorton’s switched from hydrogenated canola and soybean oils to non-hydrogenated canola, cottonseed or rice bran oils. The company uses a variety of oils depending upon market conditions, adds Lynch.

Q. How can consumers regulate their intake of trans-fatty acids?  

The American Heart Association offers the following recommendations to regulate intake of trans fats:

• When possible, use naturally occurring, non-hydrogenated oil such as canola or olive oil.

• Look for processed foods made with non-hydrogenated oil

• Use margarine instead of butter, and choose soft (liquid or tub) varieties over stick margarine. Look for margarine with no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and with liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient.

• French fries, donuts, cookies and crackers are high in trans fats, so consume them infrequently.

• Limiting saturated fat intake will curtail consumption of trans fats.

• Limit consumption of commercial fried foods and baked goods, which are high in fat.

•  Limit consumption of fried foods.

Q. Can a product labeled “trans-fat free” contain trans fats? 

Yes, in a miniscule amount. A product that has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat and less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per reference amount and serving may be labeled “trans-fat free.” 

August 2005 - SeaFood Business 

Featured Supplier

Company Category