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Going Soon: Trans fat?

May 25, 2011


Kane County Chronicle
Serving The Tri-Cities and Kankakee
By: Jonathan Bilyk - jbilyk@kcchronicle.com
Wednesday, May 29, 2011



Photo by Sandy Bressner (Popcorn making)
Bill Parson adds butter to popcorn at the Charlestowne
18 Cinema in St. Charles. The general assembly is
considering a ban to prevent restaurants and
bakeries from using trans fats.
(Sandy Bressner - sbressner@kcchronicle.com)

Chris Johnson never worried about his movie theater popcorn. Rather, it was the nacho cheese and the buttery flavored topping that drew his attention as government regulators’ attention began to be drawn to trans fats.

“We’ve anticipated this for a while now,” said Johnson, vice president and concessions manager at Classic Cinemas. “That’s why we’ve changed all of our products at our theaters.”

Beginning a couple years ago, Downers Grove-based Classic Cinemas, which locally operates the Charlestowne 18 cineplex at Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles, began reviewing all of the food items it sells at its theater concession stands, searching for items that might be made from ingredients containing trans fats.

The nacho cheese was swapped for a new variety. So was the theater chain’s buttery topping.

Johnson, however, said the company’s gaze lingered only briefly on the popcorn it sells by the bucket. 

“We pop that in coconut oil,” Johnson said. “It makes it taste the best, and, as it turns out, has no trans fats, so we won’t need to touch it at all.”

In coming weeks, the Illinois State Senate is expected to vote on a proposal to ban food ingredients containing artificial trans fats from being used in a wide assortment of foods served by restaurants, concession stands and cafeterias, among others.

The Illinois House of Representatives approved the ban in April, when it passed legislation that would prohibit artificial trans fats from foods sold in Illinois, including in school vending machines. Government-run cafeterias would have until 2016 to ban the substance.

Trans fats are thought to play a role in a variety of health woes, including high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, strokes and diabetes. The food industry uses ingredients containing trans fats because they can add to the shelf life of food and also enhance flavor.

Should Illinois ban trans fats, it would become the second state to ban the substance, after California did it in 2008.

The Illinois measure has drawn opposition from some business groups, particularly a trade organization representing retail bakeries in the region. Following the state House’s passage of the bill, the Chicago Area Retail Bakers Association launched a letter-writing campaign to state senators, calling on the lawmakers to recognize the damage CARBA believes could be wrought upon local retail bakery shops.

“As bakers, we recognize that there are healthier choices than consuming products made with shortenings and margarine containing trans fats,” CARBA’s leadership wrote in the letter. “We would never recommend a steady diet of just cakes, cookies, doughnuts and Danish.

“But as an occasional treat, in moderation, we feel the educated consumer should have a choice.”

That sentiment found favor with state senators, who amended the State Senate version of the bill to exempt some baked goods and pastries from the ban. Should the Senate approve the bill with the exemption intact, it would need to go back to the House for that body’s approval, before going to Gov. Pat Quinn.

Exemptions for other organizations, such as food service operations run by organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, are also being considered.

The Senate is expected to hold hearings on the bill this week and in early June.

Local lawmakers, however, believe the ban should not be considered at all. In the House, State Reps. Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia; Kay Hatcher, R-Yorkville; and Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago, all opposed the measure. State Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, said he would oppose the measure, as well.

“In a time when Illinois is facing serious challenges, to use our time on something like this is just ridiculous,” Lauzen said. “I believe that everyone should eat healthy.

“But what we eat should be a personal decision, and this is just another example of government telling us what we can and cannot do.”

At Harner’s Bakery in North Aurora, co-owner Jeanine Bennett said she would certainly hope for an exemption for her shop.

While she said others at the bakery were more knowledgeable of the ingredients in the varieties of baked goods sold at Harner’s, Bennett said she would suspect a trans fat ban would force the bakery to alter some of the recipes for the coffee cakes, Danish, doughnuts and other popular items.

“We use really old recipes that our grandparents had,” Bennett said. “We wouldn’t be happy if we had to mess with those.”

Others in the food service business in the Tri-Cities area, however, said they have been more proactive. At Skippy’s Gyros in St. Charles, owner John Volkos said they switched years ago to fry oils that were free of trans fats.

“We would never say that the foods we sell here are health foods,” Volkos said. “But if you have the option to pick a healthier option for your customers, you should do that.”


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