In 2003 Denmark banned trans fatty acids from food products over fears that these hydrogenated fats could contribute to heart disease. The rest of the EU as yet has no equivalent plans to follow suit, but in the US the labelling of these artery clogging fats will be obligatory by 2006. Food makers working in the dairy field and facing new labelling rules will find some guidance from a new database.
Trans fatty acids (TFAs) are formed when liquid vegetable oils go through a chemical process called hydrogenation. Common in a range of food products - biscuits, chips, doughnuts, crackers - the hydrogenated vegetable fat is used by food processors because it is solid at room temperature and has a longer shelf life.
But research suggests that trans fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, causing the arteries to become more rigid and clogged. An increase in LDL cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease. As a result, their use - increasingly criticised - will be reduced as more consumers opt for alternatives.
Compiled by the US International Dairy Federation , the database allows processors to calculate the amount of trans fat from dairy ingredients in their fluid milk, cultured dairy products and ice cream without having to run individual analysis on each product, claims the dairy body.
A separate analysis for cheese products will be put together by this autumn.
According to the dairy association, earlier this month it reissued an updated database for the amount of trans fat in milkfat, to replace the 5 May version that contained a miscalculation.
In response to increasing pressure from consumer groups, and the arrival of new rules in the US food makers are already starting to remove the TFAs from a variety of food products.
"We have taken the decision to reduce trans fats levels to less than 1 per cent of total food energy, the level recommended by the World Health Organisation," a spokesperson for the Swiss food giant Nestlé recently told FoodNavigator.com.
The leading food company in the world said that their priority is to reduce the addition of TFAs into food products, pointing out that TFAs are also naturally present in relatively low levels in products containing full cream milk.
"We are looking to reduce the content by the end of the year," added the Swiss firm, confirming that new formulations are 'in the pipeline.'
Nestlé joins a raft of food manufacturers - North American for the most part - that have already cut the trans fat content. Kraft foods said last month it has launched a trans fat free version of its iconic Oreo biscuit. Frito-Lay, a division of Pepsi Co, removed the TFAs from its snack product Doritos last year and soup giant Campbells announced in February that its Goldfish crackers, sold through the company's Pepperidge Farm, will become trans fat-free.
Uptake for alternative ingredients is likely to grow in parallel to the growth in food makers opting for zero trans fat formulations. But replacing the role of a partially hydrogenated fat in terms of aerating, emulsifying, lubricating, and providing textural, structural and flavour characteristics is a challenge for food developers.
Increasing numbers of ingredients suppliers are rolling out replacements for the TFAs. Danish ingredients firm Danisco claims its emulsifier/oil blends fit the bill. "These emulsifier blends with mixtures of non-hydrogenated oil offer the same properties as a partially hydrogenated shortening in most systems,"said Jim Doucet, technical manager, emulsifiers at Danisco.
Earlier this year Dutch nutritional oils and fats firm Loders Croklaan said it was looking to target market opportunities in the trans free market through its palm oil based ingredients. The company will break ground on a new plant in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
US firm Archer Daniels Midland has brought the NovaLipid zero and reduced trans-fat oils and shortenings to the alternative TFA market. According to ADM, NovaLipid's range of oils and shortenings can be used in margarine, baking, frying, confectionery, snack and cereal products. And JM Smucker recently introduced a shortening with zero grammes of trans fat. "New Zero Grams Trans Fat Shortening is made from a patented blend of sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oils to create a high-performance shortening with zero grams trans fat per serving," said the firm last month.
Brussels has yet to propose an equivalent for Europe, but on a national level certain countries are starting to make trans free moves. From the beginning of June last year Denmark became the first country in the world to introduce restrictions on the use of industrially produced trans fatty acids. Oils and fat are now forbidden on the Danish market if they contain trans fatty acids exceeding 2 per cent.
Speaking at the time, the country's minister for agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel had hopes that the EU would follow suit saying: "It is my hope that we will soon see EU regulation in this field. The next step should be common low EU limit values for trans fatty acids."