GUILT-FREE POTATO CHIPS ARE not coming to supermarket shelves soon. Olestra, the no-calorie fake fat being developed by Procter & Gamble, won't get regulatory approval for the fat substitute imminently, the company now admits. In mid-1993, Procter was expecting a 1994 O.K. for olestra. The consumer-products giant got its first patent for it 23 years ago and petitioned the Food & Drug Administration for approval in 1987.
But even though the necessary FDA tests are completed, P&G Chairman Edwin Artzt is downbeat about a near-term go-ahead: "I'm getting weary of saying that we're making progress, and the light is at the end of the tunnel." He's hoping for approval by late 1995.
The problem, Artzt says, is that the FDA lacks the staff to render a verdict on olestra, which isn't a top-priority project. An agency spokesperson won't comment on that, other than to say the FDA is being extremely careful with olestra. One snag everyone agrees on: It's tough to assess a new food additive that, unlike others, might be consumed in vast quantities. Ultimately, olestra may show up in everything from chocolate cake to processed meat. But for starters, any FDA approval would be limited to salted snacks.
P&G does face a deadline. Congress granted it an extension of a basic olestra patent, but it expires if P&G doesn't get an FDA O.K. by January, 1996.