Artificial trans fat still lurks in our food, at least at the Joe's Crab Shack chain, according to a health watchdog group.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said Wednesday that the Houston-based seafood restaurant company uses a blend of partially hydrogenated margarine-butter blend containing dangerous levels of trans fat.
Joe's Crab Shack, which was established in 1994, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
[Updated, April 16, 3:15 p.m.: Jim Mazany, president of Joe's Crab Shack, said in a statement that the company had made "consistent progress" toward its goal of removing all trans fats from its menu prior to the CSPI's report.
"This means that, to date, there are zero trans fats in our frying oil system-wide; some of our restaurants are already fully trans fat-free; and within 90 days, we intend to be completely trans fat-free in all restaurants," Mazany said.]
In November, the Food and Drug administration proposed new rules on trans fat that would essentially strike the ingredient from menus within a few years.
The agency declared that partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fat, are no longer "generally recognized as safe."
The proposed rules would require companies hoping to use the additive to first seek approval from the FDA, which quotes research showing that limiting consumption of trans fat could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths annually. The public comment period ended in March.
Joe's Crab Shack has 13 locations in California, which was the first state to ban trans fat from restaurants in 2008. Nationwide, the chain has 130 branches.
The restaurant company pledged in 2007 to cut trans fat from its menus. It made that pledge not long after being acquired by Romano's Macaroni Grill owner Ignite Restaurant Group from Landry's Restaurants Inc.
But the CSPI said that there was 3.5 grams of trans fat per tablespoon in margarine used at a Joe's Crab Shack in Maryland, according to a label photographed by one of the watchdog's nutritionists.
The product, SunGlow European Style Butter Blend margarine, is made by a company that also produces a version without trans fat, according to CSPI. It was unclear whether the chain had used the butter in its other restaurants.
The group also said in its report that Joe's Pasta-laya dish -- shrimp and Andouille sausage in a garlic butter sauce with vegetables served over penne pasta -- has 14 grams of trans fat.
The American Heart Assn. cautions against consuming more than that amount in a week, according to CSPI.
In a statement, CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson called Joe's Crab Shack a "nutritional shipwreck of a restaurant chain, ruining expensive seafood with cheap, industrially produced trans fat designed to simulate butter."