Friday, January 19, 2007

Chewing the fat with Portillo's

One of my New Year's resolutions has been to avoid trans fats, and while it is very easy to locate the forbidden oils in packaged goods since trans fats are listed on nutrition labels, it is much harder to learn if the doughnut or muffin from the local coffee shop is trans fat free. Although, thanks to media attention to this issue, I can say with confidence that Dunkin Donuts doughnuts have trans fats (their muffins do not) and Starbucks baked goods are trans fat free (although that doesn't make them healthy).

I don't eat much fast food, but I know that McDonald's and Burger King are still using trans fats. Wendy's and KFC are moving away from them and Chipotle and Au Bon Pain are trans fat free zones. But what about Portillo's, the local hot dog chain where we do occasionally indulge in some greasy fare? Well, I checked out their website and couldn't find any nutritional information at all. So I wrote a letter. Here's my missive and their prompt, but overly technical response.

Dear Portillo's,

I am a fan of your restaurants, but I am concerned about trans fats. I
was disappointed not to find any nutritional information on your
website, and I need to know, before returning for a hot dog and fries,
if your menu items are cooked in trans fats or if you are using a trans
fat-free cooking oil.

Thank you in advance.

Dear Alma,

Thank you for your E-mail. The requirement to provide nutritional
information is a constantly changing area of government regulations.
At the current time, state and federal law requires labeling of those
items sold as retail grocery. Items sold at restaurants are exempt.

We continue to watch this area so we can remain in compliance.
However, at this time, the information you seek is unavailable
and we are unable to comply with your request.
Portillo's is a privately held business, with a limited number
of stores. We do not franchise our restaurants. The cost of
testing to obtain nutritional information and keeping such
information current and correct is prohibitive. While we manufacture
some of our products, we source many products from multiple suppliers
with varying specifications. This fluctuation in purchasing
would create the need for prolonged and repeated testing
making it extremely difficult to generate a concise and accurate
report on the nutritional values of all of our menu items.
We appreciate having the opportunity to explain.

To answer your question regarding the oil used to cook our French
fries, it does contain trans fats.

Cassie Chytracek
The Portillo Restaurant Group