The American Heart Association (AHA) has updated its heart healthy food stamp to ensure certified products have a low trans fat content and are in line with its consumer education campaigns.
The red and white stamp is a feature of the AHA's Food Certification Program, indicating to consumers the products that are endorsed as healthy for the heart in a country where heart diseases claim over 870,000 lives a year.
Under the new criteria, any individual food product, as well as meat, poultry and seafood, that contains trans fats can only carry the stamp if they have less than 0.5g per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed and per labeled serving size.
Meals and main dishes must have less than 0.5g per labeled serving size to qualify as certified by the AHA.
Effective from 1 January, products seeking the heart-check mark will have to meet the new criteria for trans fat as well as the other existing criteria.
Existing products must comply with the new trans fat criterion by 26 December, 2008. However, according to the AHA, all products currently in the program do already meet this new criterion.
Kristi Manning, associate communications manager said: "The addition to the existing criteria coincides with the American Heart Association's national consumer education campaign, 'Face the Fats', which increases consumer awareness and understanding of fats."
Although trace amounts of trans fats are found naturally in dairy and meats, the vast majority are formed during the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil that converts the oil into semi-solids for a variety of food applications.
Scientific reports claim that trans fats raise serum levels of LDL-cholesterol, reduce levels of HDL-cholesterol, can promote inflammation can cause endothelial dysfunction, and influence other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
The Food Certification Program is designed to identify foods suitable for people over the age of two. It requires that each serving of a product must be low fat (less than or equal to 3g), low in saturated fat (less than or equal to 1g), low in cholesterol (less than or equal to 20mg), low in sodium (less than or equal to 480mg for individual foods).
It must also contain at least 10 per cent of the recommended daily value of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron or dietary fiber.
Firms can apply to use one of two versions of the stamp - the original low saturated fat and cholesterol marker, or the newer stamp, introduced in October 2005, which includes a whole grains claim. This requires that products must contain at least 51 percent whole grains by weight. The new trans fat criteria will be applied to both categories.
Food companies voluntarily participate in the Food Certification Program, which is designed to be revenue neutral. The annual certification fees range from $3,150 to $7,500, depending on whether or not the product is renewing its certification or is applying to use the mark for the first time, and whether a volume discount level has been achieved.
Fees are kept as low as possible so that companies of all sizes can participate. Currently 104 companies and 779 products are certified in the program.
Companies currently using the mark on their products include industry leaders General Mills, ConAgra, Campbell, Kellogg and Quaker Oats.