Eat'n Park Hospitality Group's company-wide shift to trans fat-free cooking oil reflects growing unease within the food service sector that it could be the next target of the health crusaders.
The switch has been completed in all 79 Eat'n Park restaurant locations across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, as well as among the Eat'n Park Hospitality Group's Parkhurst Dining Services and CURA Hospitality business units.
The move has ostensibly been made for health reasons. A growing number of health experts who are concerned over the link between trans fat and a higher risk of heart attacks and increased cholesterol levels.
But it also reflects the fact that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that consumers are becoming much more aware about the trans fats issue. Not only are they looking to buy trans fat free goods in the supermarket; they are also beginning to seek out restaurants that cook uniquely with trans fat free oil.
Food service provider Aramark's Nutritional DiningStyles research for example shows that concern over limiting trans fatty acid intake has overtaken concern over limiting carbohydrate intake in importance. Some 21 percent of respondents said they were worried about trans fats compared to 18 percent who expressed concern over limiting carbs.
This is because the food service sector is increasingly finding itself in the firing line. Californian attorney Stephen Joseph, who successfully took both Kraft and McDonald's to task over their use of trans fats, is pushing for greater awareness of the issue at the point of service. And it is the service provider he is targeting.
"I'm not critical of the oil manufacturers," he told FoodNavigator-USA.com earlier this month. "They're trying to get the situation organized. Cargill has done a good job with its new low lineolic oil, and so has Bunge.
"The problem is getting the public to realize that there is trans fats in cooking oil, and that they should ask two questions at a restaurant. One, what type of oil do you use and two, is it partially hydrogenated?"
The Eat'n Park group has clearly seen which way the wind is blowing. This well-publicized move towards trans fat free cooking oil should not only help the company to keep ahead of the competition, but also remove itself from negative publicity.
The firm also claims that move will not affect the quality of the food. According to Brooks Broadhurst, vice president of purchasing for Eat'n Park Hospitality Group, the switch to trans fat-free oil will provide guests with healthier meals, as well as a fresh, cleaner taste.