The FDA says there has been a 78 percent decrease in trans fat consumption over the past decade ©Stan Honda (AFP)

Washington (AFP) – Artificial trans fats found in everything from margarine to cookies and frozen pizzas are not safe to eat and must be removed from food in the next three years, US regulators said Tuesday.

Also often used in frosting and crackers, partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) contribute to heart disease and fatal heart attacks in thousands of Americans every year, said the US Food and Drug Administration, calling them not “generally recognized as safe.”

“The FDA’s action on this major source of artificial trans fat demonstrates the agency’s commitment to the heart health of all Americans,” said acting FDA commissioner Stephen Ostroff, confirming a 2013 proposal to ban them.

“This action is expected to reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.”

Partially hydrogenated oils carry no health benefits and the Institute of Medicine has previously determined that no level is safe for consumption.

Food manufacturers in the United States have been required since 2006 to include trans fat content information on canned and packaged food labels.

The law still allows foods to be labeled as having zero grams of trans fat if they contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, but FDA officials said that a separate effort is under way to change that, and that PHOs will no longer be allowed in any foods after three years unless they get a specific exemption from regulators.

The FDA has said the labeling rule and actions taken by the food industry have already led to a 78 percent decrease in trans fat consumption in the past decade.

“While trans fat intake has significantly decreased, the current intake remains a public health concern,” the FDA said.

According to Rebecca Blake, director of clinical nutrition at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York, the current labeling laws are misleading consumers.

“If one serving of a product has less than 0.5g of trans fat, it can be legally labeled trans-fat free. But are people really eating only one cookie or five fries? The servings often add up and the consumer ends up with far more trans fats in their diet than they realize.”