McDonald's Sits In A Trans-Fat Pressure Cooker

Fast-food historians will find a bit of déjà vu in McDonald's current efforts to find a trans-fats-free cooking oil: In the early 1990s, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based chain, along with other major fast-food chains, removed beef tallow from its frying oil recipe. The changes followed a national campaign by heart attack survivor and Nebraska millionaire Phil Sokolof. Sokolof, who died in 2004 at age 82, took out newspaper ads in national newspapers urging restaurant chains and food manufacturers to remove saturated fats (including tropical oils) from their foods.

These days, Wendy's has gone trans-fat free. KFC is in the process of doing so, and Burger King has announced a test of zero trans fats oils. McDonald's announced plans to remove trans fats from its cooking oils back in 2002. A McDonald's executive, speaking at an industry conference in early November, indicated that the chain is testing a new oil in 300 locations, and plans to expand that test to 1,000 units. A McDonald's spokesman, however, would not confirm those numbers or plans to expand the test.



"We've said for quite some time that we'd continue to test different oils to identify what will work best with our products as well as our cooking processes in the restaurants," the spokesman said. "We are doing that."

Meanwhile, at the end of October, McDonald's 740 restaurants in Australia switched to a new cooking oil--a blend of canola and sunflower oil contains less than 1 percent trans fats.

"We believe that by introducing this oil we have taken a further significant step to enhance the nutritional profile of our menu," said Peter Bush, CEO of McDonald's Australia, in a statement.

Since one of a restaurant chain's selling points is consistency of food from location to location, one might ask: Why can Australia make a switch that McDonald's USA cannot? "Perhaps the importance of fries in Australia isn't the same as in the United States," said Ron Paul, president of Technomic Inc., the Chicago-based restaurant research firm.

"McDonald's is hesitant to tinker with the taste of its fries," Paul said. Still, "they're going to have to change, and sooner rather than later."

"If there are five priorities at McDonald's," Paul added, "this is in the top five."

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