Prompted by rising concern about the health risks of trans fats, Loews Hotels announced Friday that it will ban all artificial trans fats by June 1 in its 18 hotels and resorts in the U.S. and Canada. The ban applies to all restaurants, room service, banquet functions and even snack foods in guest room mini bars.
The move comes on the heels of a vote last week by the New York City Board of Health to ban all artificial trans fats in the city's restaurants by July 2008. Restaurants must stop using most frying oils containing artificial trans fats by July 2007.
Trans fat is made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil--a process called "hydrogenation"--which increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods containing these fats. Trans fat is found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods made with or fried in hydrogenated oils. Some trans fat occurs naturally. Trans fat is considered a health risk because it raises the level of LDL ("bad") cholesterol while cutting levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol.
Loews, the first hotel brand in the U.S. to eliminate artificial trans fats, will implement the ban in stages. By Feb. 1, the hotel says, it will stop using trans fats in all frying oils and French fries. On April 1, salad dressings, pastry items such as pie dough, fudge and buttercream frosting, and other frozen foods will be free of trans fats. By June 1, the full ban will take effect, cutting out trans fats in waffles, pancakes and prepared mixes. The step-by-step approach will allow hotel chefs to experiment with suitable substitute ingredients, Loews says. In its cookies, for example, chefs will use butter instead of shortening.
Are other catering operations losing their appetite for trans fats? "We are looking at our options and exploring opportunities with final decisions coming later," a spokesperson for Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels tells Special Events Magazine.
Many caterers contacted by Special Events say they rarely use trans fats as it is.
Kimberly Sundt, corporate director of marketing and sales for New York-based Abigail Kirsch, says, "We really don't use them, so it [New York's ban] is not affecting us very much."
"We do not and never have used trans fats," says Joann Roth-Oseary, founder of Tarzana, Calif-based Someone's in the Kitchen. "We are concerned with quality product, and most of our clients are aware of health choices in foods they consume."
Atlanta-based A Legendary Event has been moving away from the use of trans fats. "We actually made a decision that healthier cooking is popular with our high-end clientele," says company chief Tony Conway. "And they have been pleased that we made the switch." The company cuts down on trans fats by "staying away" from a lot of fried items, Conway says. When the company's chefs do fry foods, "We are flash-frying in vegetable oils and using olive oils, and baking items off on many occasions," he adds. One menu hurdle: fried chicken. "Here in the South, there is much resistance to our Southern fried chicken being cooked any way but the old Southern way!" he says. "We really try and help educate our clients on these topics, and our conversation will almost always err on the side of the client and what they want."
Indeed, taking care of the client is the top priority of caterers, even if the client wants to commit a dietary sin.
"We really specialize in what people pay for," says a wry Richard Mooney, head of Kensington Caterers in Los Angeles. "We will serve them what they want--within reason--so we work with them on planning menus. Most people don't really seem to consider this issue at all."