Breaking News on Food Safety & Quality Control

Monitoring program shows trans fats declining in Canadian foods

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 13-Feb-2009

Related topics: Industry news

The Canadian government has released data showing that levels of trans fats have declined since the first results of its monitoring program were released in 2007 – but some food categories still have a way to go.

Health Canada has been monitoring trans fat levels in foods and publishing the results on its website since the government first called on industry to reduce levels of trans fats in June 2007.

The results of this third set of monitoring data show that 80 percent of foods reviewed met the five percent limit for trans fat set by the Trans Fat Task Force in 2006.

However, manufacturers of baked goods are still struggling to cut levels, with only 43 percent of bakery products meeting the limit, although the review noted: “There has also been some progress in bakery products in the reduction of trans fat.”

Trans fat in the form of partially hydrogenated oil is most common in baked and fried foods, in which it can count for up to 45 percent of total fat content.

Pre-packaged foods

In a label review of pre-packaged foods, popcorn contained the most trans fat, with 58 percent meeting the limit, and 65 percent of cookies. Snacks contained the least, with 92 percent of those reviewed hitting the target.

Canada’s health minister Leona Aglukkaq said: “Our government is pleased to see that industry has reduced the level of trans fat in many pre-packaged foods. This was achieved by finding healthier alternatives without increasing the levels of saturated fat.”

For prepackaged foods, the government chose to monitor seven different food categories which were selected because they represented significant sources of trans fat: Cookies, crackers, instant noodles, frozen potatoes, pre-packaged desserts, snacks, and popcorn.

However, there are naturally occurring sources of trans fat. It makes up two to five percent of total fat content in dairy products and beef, for example.

Trans fat advice

The World Health Organization has recommended an upper level of one percent of a person’s energy to come from trans fat, which has been shown to cause coronary heart disease.

Denmark was the first country to set an upper limit on trans fats as a percentage of total fat content in a food item – and set it at two percent in 2003.

Canada was the first country to introduce mandatory labeling of trans fat content.

The upper limit for trans fats as a percentage of total fat in foods other than meat and dairy was set at five percent after it emerged that Denmark could have achieved the same health benefits and reached the WHO goal even with a higher limit.

When it introduced the monitoring program, the Canadian government said that it would give industry two years to demonstrate that it was making progress towards the new limits, after which time it said it would introduce trans fat legislation.

The fourth and final set of monitoring data is due to be published in the summer.