King County residents will be able to make more informed food choices and have a safer food supply as the result of last week's action by the King County Board of Health to require menu labeling in King County chain restaurants and to eliminate artificial trans fat in all King County restaurants.
The first phase of the trans fat ban, which applies to fry oils and shortenings, will go into effect May 1, 2008. Restaurants will have until Aug. 1, 2008 to conduct the nutritional analysis and put the information on menus and menu boards. King County will be the second jurisdiction in United States to require menu labeling in some food establishments.
Board of Health members expressed strong support for the decision that will improve the dining experience and the health of the community in the fight against obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
"The Board of Health is responsible for passing laws to protect the health of the public, and to promote healthy behaviors that improve health and prevent illness," said King County Councilmember and Board of Health Chair Julia Patterson. "There is no better example of our commitment to residents' health than the legislation passed today that protects us from dangerous trans fats and promotes consumer education and informed choices by labeling menus."
"With the menu labeling requirement, the Board has taken a significant step today to enable us to make more informed choices about the food we eat," said Dr. David Fleming, director and Health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. "And, the elimination of artificial trans fat is great news for preventing heart disease and improving the health of our community."
Sally Clark, a Seattle city councilmember and Board of Health member, said the area's rising health care costs and growing number of obese, diabetic and chronically ill residents prompted the Board of Health's actions.
"Since last December, the King County Board of Health has considered options to halt and potentially reverse the growing obesity trend in our county. After many months of education, discussion and deliberation, as well as the appointment and recommendations from a stakeholder committee, we resolved that banning trans fats and requiring chain restaurants to menu label were important options we could implement," said Issaquah Mayor and Board of Health Member Ava Frisinger. "The worsening health of residents is an extremely complex problem to solve, but eliminating fats we know harm health and providing consumers with information about the food they eat are two strategies that can begin to address and improve our health."
The Board of Health and Public Health –Seattle & King County will work with the restaurant industry and the public through education campaigns that will prepare them for the menu labeling and trans fat changes in the upcoming months. Technical assistance will be available to restaurants to assist them in following the new regulations. The public education campaign includes plans to work with community partners to ensure that everyone understands how to utilize the nutritional information to make informed choices.
The new law will require chain restaurants with more than ten national locations to display calorie, fat, sodium and carbohydrate information on menus. If the restaurant uses a menu board, the calories will be posted on the board in the same size and font as the price information. The remaining nutritional information will be provided in a plainly visible format at the point of ordering. Only standard menu items will need to be labeled – occasional "specials" will be exempt.
Trans fats will be eliminated in all King County restaurants in two phases. Fry oils and shortenings with artificial trans fats will not be permissible after May 1, 2008. Restaurants must find alternatives for margarine and all other products containing trans fats by February 1, 2009. Many restaurants have already made the switch to trans fat free alternatives, but the new rules will ensure that the remaining restaurants will make the change as well.
Artificial trans fats have been used widely in the restaurant and processed food industries because they have a high smoking temperature and they keep food stable over a long shelf life. Industry trends have been to find alternatives to the use of trans fats, so there are non-trans fats options available from distributors and in processed products.