- Partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) are being replaced with healthier alternatives in food, according to Bloomberg. PHOs are the main source of artificial trans fat, which raises the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that PHOs were no longer generally recognized as safe, and ordered they be removed from food products by June 18, 2018. This affects countless manufacturers, since PHOs are found in products including cookies, crackers, pre-packaged baked goods, creamers, cereal bars and microwave popcorn.
- Food makers have found success replacing PHOs with a combination of either a modified canola or soybean oil, and a solid fat, like palm oil.
Removing PHOs from the American diet was not an easy or cheap endeavor for food manufacturers. The new oils are more expensive than their predecessor, but they are decisively healthier.
The modified canola and soybean oils both claim to have a high content of "good fats" — like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — and low levels of "bad fats" — like trans and saturated fats. Some baking recipes require a solid fat as well, to mimic the affects of the now-absent PHOs. Many food makers turned to palm oil, which is the world’s most popular vegetable oil. However, palm oil carries a sizable environmental footprint. Plantations where the trees are grown are not always planted in a sustainable manner, and have been linked to deforestation.
Food manufacturers have made a sizable investment in R&D to update recipes with healthier oils. First, new formulas need to be found that don’t diminish the expected taste of the product. Then, the product’s shelf life needs to be tested. Finally, product packaging needs to be reworked to reflect the new ingredients. Once those initial costs have passed, food makers will still be paying more on average for the healthier oils.
Corbion may have found a solution to this problem. The company found that bread manufacturers could effectively get the same results using only 80% of the pricier oil. And so far, consumer CPG prices seem unaffected by the switch.
Consumers likely won’t notice a difference in the taste of food made without PHOs. Many companies worked to meet the FDA’s requirement well before the deadline, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Long John Silver's. So far, these restaurants have not heard major consumer complaints about the updated menu items.
Making the switch away from PHOs is more problematic for some CPGs than others. Scientists working on Conagra's Orville Redenbacher brand spent six years to take trans fat out of its popular popcorn line. It will be interesting to see how other companies fare as the deadline looms closer.