Local trans fat ban no piece of cake

Jay Halayko fears Albany County’s impending ban on trans fats in baked goods will leave a bad taste
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Jay Halayko fears Albany County’s impending ban on trans fats in baked goods will leave a bad taste in the mouths of his customers.

The general manager of the Schuyler Bakery in Watervliet worries the products he bakes with palm oil won’t measure up to those made with shortenings he uses now for everything from batter to icing. No matter what product he substitutes for those containing hydrogenated fats, he said, they don’t taste as good.

“The taste of things are going to change,” he said. “Is it going to affect my business? Yeah.”

Halayko is among a group of small businesses pleading with the county legislators to exclude bakers from the trans fat ban when it goes into effect in July. The Legislature passed a resolution in 2007 that directed the county Board of Health to prohibit restaurants and other food industries from using trans fats, a cooking oil and shortening component linked to a variety of diseases.

Other county businesses were prohibited from using trans fats in January. However, bakeries were given an extra six months to comply.

Now as the date approaches, many bakers are claiming the change will drive them out of business. Rachel Cocca-Dott of Coccadotts Cake Shop in Albany said the trans fat ban will make it nearly impossible for her to produce the quality of goods she sells today.

Cocca-Dott said icing made with palm oil is difficult to shape and doesn’t hold up in warm temperatures. She said cakes made with trans fat-free products have a different flavor and get runny when the icing warms.

“So how am I supposed to deliver a five-tier wedding cake in August?” she asked.

And the ban doesn’t cover larger corporate bakeries, either, which the smaller family-owned businesses say places them at a disadvantage. Larger chains such as Price Chopper or Freihofer’s fall under state or federal law, which doesn’t prohibit trans fats.

“Price Chopper is probably licking their chops over this because they’d like to see all the little bakeries go under,” said Halayko.

Even out-of-county bakeries aren’t fond of the law. Deirdre Delaney, the owner of Brickerhouse Cakery in Schenectady, said she doesn’t bake with trans fat products, but defends the right of other bakeries to use them and is concerned over the precedent such a ban might set for other ingredients.

“Once you start opening that box … you really need to know what the implications are,” she said. “Where do you draw that line?”

Albany will become the only county to ban trans fats outside of New York City. Other Capital Region counties, such as Schenectady, are investigating similar legislation.

“There’s no pending legislation, but it is something [Schenectady County legislators] have done some research on,” said county spokesman Joe McQueen.

Albany County health officials have scheduled a meeting with bakers Monday afternoon to discuss the upcoming change and provide information about how to make the transition. On the same day, Christine Benedict, the Legislature’s Republican minority leader, plans to introduce a resolution that would exclude bakers from the ban.

Benedict said the Legislature passed the ban hastily in 2007. She said bakers are only now realizing its impact.

“Besides, who are we as government officials to tell people what to eat and what not to eat?” she said.

But Frank Commisso, the leader of the Legislature’s Democratic majority, disagrees. He said the negative health impacts of allowing trans fats in the county — everything from heart disease to childhood obesity — have a cost that far outweighs the concerns he’s heard.

“This is an extremely dangerous product.”

Commisso also disputed the taste concerns offered by the bakers. He said the county offered blind taste tests before crafting the trans fat ban and the results were negligible.

“It’s a matter of these bakers learning to work with a product they’re not used to,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any bakery that would want to put up a sign warning that their products could be hazardous to your health.”

Halayko said he’d happily post a warning if he could still use the shortening of his choice.

“If people are so worried about trans fats, we could put up a sign.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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