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Editor’s letter: August 2009

Still in trans-ition

Written by Brian Hartz   
In early July the popular magazine Consumer Reports released a survey saying there was little to no difference in the flavour and quality of Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King’s french fries made without trans fat. In early July the popular magazine Consumer Reports released a survey saying there was little to no difference in the flavour and quality of Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King’s french fries made without trans fat. According to a report in the July 9 Detroit Free Press, the magazine “had taste testers sample medium orders of fries from three outlets of each chain. The testers had sampled the fries previously, when trans fats were used. The fries at Wendy’s came out on top, with a rating of ‘very good’; they were described as having a big potato flavour with a light crispy surface and a soft inside.”

This, at long last, is encouraging news for bakeries struggling to come to terms with Ottawa’s tough new restrictions on the use of trans fats. It’s been four years since the government first got involved in the trans fat debate and it’s still a sensitive and much-debated topic among food manufacturers – and it was thrust back into the spotlight in June when the food industry’s trans fat reduction grace period expired.

At we put up a poll asking whether the government should force food makers to eliminate trans fats from their products; surprisingly, the result was nearly a split. Of course, our polls are unscientific – they’re meant to be conversation starters and by no means should they be taken as a true measure of how bakers feel about a particular issue. I mention this one purely because of the unexpected result and the expiration, on June 20, of the food industry’s two-year grace period for voluntarily reducing trans-fat levels to less than five per cent of a product’s total fat.

Since December 2007, food producers have been required to state trans-fat levels on product labels. Instead, some have turned to ingredients such as palm oil – which is loaded with saturated fat – to escape the trans-fat stigma.
However, as reported by the Canadian Press on June 15, researchers at the University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax have discovered that full hydrogenation of crops such as soy and canola can produce a much healthier, non-trans fat with potential applications for the baking industry.

“What we are trying to do is find a replacement for a fat that can laminate properly, because when you put a fat inside the sheet of dough and then fold it and compress over and over, you need a fat that can stand that pressure,” says professor Alejandro Marangoni of the University of Guelph.

They’d better hurry, because the industry is not doing a very good job of voluntarily reducing trans-fat levels to the government-mandated levels, and we don’t want to see bakeries start getting fined for noncompliance. In fact, as of February 2009 when the latest set of data from Health Canada’s Trans Fat Monitoring Program were released, less than half (about 40 per cent) of the bakery products tested met the desired ratio of trans fat to total fat. The program tested 80 products across seven categories – croissants, danishes, pies, tarts, cakes, brownies and doughnuts – from a fairly wide range of bakeries large and small. By far the most troublesome product category was croissant, in which the trans-fat levels of only a quarter of the products were less than five per cent of total fat.

So, what should be done to speed up this shift in the industry? More importantly, what do you, the baker, need to cope with it? We’ll be taking a more in-depth look at fats in our October issue, but until then please feel free to pass along any ideas, comments, frustrations, etc., to  This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , and we’ll do our best to make sure your voice is heard.
Happy reading,
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