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Database Makes Fiber Analysis Faster, Cleaner / July 28, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Database Makes Fiber Analysis Faster, Cleaner

By Jill Lee
July 28, 1998

Scientists with the Agricultural Research Service have filed a patent on a faster, cleaner way to determine fiber content in cereal or grain products--something companies must tell consumers under the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.

Currently, fiber in baked goods is estimated with a 3-day chemical analysis. This requires costly enzymes that mimic human digestion. Removing fiber from the foods calls for chemical solvents that have costly disposal requirements.

Under the new process, near-infrared light is beamed onto a food sample. The amount of light that bounces back indicates differences in the food's chemistry, such as fiber content.

The process is simple for the user, but creating it was no easy task. Today's foods are made from mixed grains and can be high in sugar, fat or both--which complicates NIR fiber analysis. Variation in snack and cereal recipes makes the analysis even more difficult.

NIR is only as accurate as the number and kinds of samples available for comparison with an unknown. Chemists worked the past five years at ARS' Quality Assessment Research Unit in Athens, Ga., to build a database with more than 200 product samples, including many trademarked U.S. snacks and cereal products. The ARS chemists then developed mathematical formulas and measurement guidelines that make it possible to predict fiber even for high-sugar or fat products.

It is this new process that combines the data, the equations and the guidelines into one highly precise fiber measurement system that is the subject of the patent, filed earlier this year. Companies may someday use this system to determine the fiber content in new products.

The ARS chemists collaborated on the project with Foss North America, an international producer of food analysis equipment in Eden Prairie, Minn.

Scientific contact: F. E. Barton, Quality Assessment Research Unit, Richard B. Russell Research Center, Athens, Ga., Phone (706) 546-3288, fax (706) 546-3607, wbarton@athens.net.

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