Trans Fat in Fast Food? Who Knew?


The Center for Science in the Public Interest is suing Yum Brands, operator of the KFC chain, in the District of Columbia, arguing that the restaurants are violating a D.C. consumer protection law by failing to adequately disclose the trans fat content of their food. CSPI is demanding that KFC either stop using hydrogenated vegetable fat or post prominent warnings about it at the point of sale. CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson explains, with the rhetorical restraint for which his group is famous:

Grilled, baked, or roasted chicken is a healthy food–and even fried chicken can be trans-fat-free. But coated in breading and fried in partially hydrogenated oil, this otherwise healthy food becomes something that can quite literally take years off your life. KFC knows this, yet it recklessly puts its customers at risk of a Kentucky Fried Coronary.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is retired Rockville, Maryland, physician Arthur Hoyte, who "had purchased fried chicken at KFC outlets in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, not knowing that KFC fries in partially hydrogenated oil." Hoyte elaborates: "If I had known that KFC uses an unnatural frying oil, and that their food was so high in trans fat, I would have reconsidered my choices. I am bringing this suit because I want KFC to change the way it does business. And I'm doing it for my son and others' kids–so that they may have a healthier, happier, trans-fat-free future."

CSPI has a right to pressure a restaurant chain to "change the way it does business" through criticism, boycotts, and the kind of negative publicity in which the group specializes. But KFC has a right to resist that pressure, and the argument that it is concealing vital information about its products from customers like Hoyte rings hollow. It's widely known that fast food chains commonly fry their food in hydrogenated oil, and health-conscious consumers can always ask whether a particular restaurant does so. It took me a minute or two to locate a KFC nutrition guide that lists the trans fat content of every item on the menu. (Addendum: KFC says this information also is available at the point of sale.) You can always argue that nutrtional information should be more conspicuous or emphatic, but you'd have to be willfully blind to simply assume that the "trans-fat-free future" had already arrived at the local KFC.