- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It’s now easier to scarf down those ballpark chicken fingers without guilt.

Philadelphia-based ARAMARK, which provides concessions and food services to 13 major league teams, including the Nationals, said all of its ballpark food will be cooked in a special corn and sunflower frying oil for the 2007 season, following a national trend toward the reduction of trans fats in food.

ARAMARK’s decision to eliminate trans fat oil in ballparks coincides with a company-wide effort to eliminate the oil at all of the places it serves food, including nearly 400 college campuses. ARAMARK competitor Centerplate announced a similar initiative earlier this year.

“By converting to the new fryer oil, fans can continue to enjoy the quality and taste of their favorite food, as well as try new items, all while reducing their consumption of trans fats,” said Ned Paynter, executive vice president of ARAMARK Stadiums and Arenas.

ARAMARK officials said use of the new oil does not necessarily mean that all ballpark foods will be free of trans fat but will be considerably healthier than in the past. At RFK Stadium, the elimination of the trans fat oils will extend not just to ARAMARK concession stands but other restaurants at the stadium that subcontract from ARAMARK.

Trans fats are formed when liquid vegetable oils go through a process that makes them more solid. They are commonly found in products like cookies, donuts and pastries. Popular fried foods like chicken strips and french fries are often cooked in oils containing trans fats.

In recent years, ARAMARK has added healthier items to its ballpark menus, including fruit bowls, salads and wraps, carrot and celery sticks, deli sandwiches and vegetable chili. It plans to introduce some new menu items, including sushi, chicken pizza and veggie steaks at certain ballparks.

The Food and Drug Administration has reported that trans fats can raise the level of so-called “bad” cholesterol in the body while decreasing the amount of “good” cholesterol, thus causing arteries to become clogged and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. The FDA now requires all food manufacturers to list trans fat content along with a product’s other nutritional information.

“Trans fat is on its way out,” said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a group that has advocated for the eliminate of trans fat in foods. “I think what we’re seeing are some very responsible moves here. I think it’s a response to say, ‘Hey, if other people can get rid of this stuff, why can’t we?’ ”

Nationals spokesman Chartese Burnett said the team had not been made aware of the switch to the new oil but that it was a welcome change.

“I think there’s been a trend where people are trying to eat healthier,” said Burnett, who is a vegetarian. “I’m sure this is a good thing. Anything toward healthy is good.”

Several local governments have sought to ban or restrict the amount of trans fats in foods, citing a concern for public health. The New York City Board of Health in December passed a law requiring restaurants to eliminate trans fats in their food by July 2008, and Philadelphia’s city council approved a similar phase-out. Maryland lawmakers have introduced legislation that would bar restaurants from serving meals cooked with more than a half-gram of trans fat a serving, and similar legislation is expected to be introduced before the D.C. Council this year.

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