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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Nutrient Data Laboratory

2012 Annual Report

1a. Objectives (from AD-416):
Objective 1: Determine and monitor the nutritional composition of foods commonly consumed by Americans. Compile, maintain, and disseminate electronic food composition databases utilizing standardized approaches according to specified timelines. Objective 2: Evaluate and update existing food composition data for adequacy and completeness for nutrients of high public health concern and/or identified as potential nutritional adequacy concerns in the “What We Eat in America/NHANES” dietary survey, such as vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins K and D focusing on foods commonly consumed. Objective 3: Evaluate and update methods for food composition data acquisition, evaluation, compilation and dissemination of food composition data utilizing new, robust computer systems. Sub-Objective 3A: Expand methods for statistical sampling, sample handling, quality control, and data quality evaluation to ensure representative and accurate food composition estimates. Sub-objective 3B: Review, document and evaluate the existing method for estimating the nutrient content of processed, multi-ingredient foods. Sub-Objective 3C: Update existing food cooking yields and nutrient retention factors to reflect current food products, ingredients in formulations, and preparation procedures. Sub-objective 3D: Develop and modernize automated systems to electronically receive, evaluate, and compile food composition data from external sources and explore new methods for data dissemination. Objective 4: Investigate the variability of food composition data attributable to inherent food differences as well as analytical methodology. Temporary Objectives: Objective 1: Coordinate with the Food Surveys Research Group and the Food Composition and Methods Development Laboratory to have an outside evaluation of the IT capabilities of the Nutrient Data Laboratory with respect to the ability to acquire and maintain multiple databases for bioactive food components from multiple sources including the food industry, assimilate data that characterizes variability of the food supply, allow for manipulation of large data sets and allow linkage with other similar databases/programs. Objective 2: Implement changes to update and modernize the IT infrastructure underlying the ARS databases maintained by the Nutrient Data Laboratory. Such changes include (but are not limited to) the ability to download data via the web from outside sources such as from industry and scientific investigators, to assimilate large amounts of information regarding variability of data (e.g., variety, year, post harvest handling, farming method, climate, etc), to query from multiple views (e.g., all foods of one variety in one year, all analyses by a single method), to conduct in-line statistical analyses, and to link with other similar programs (e.g., the Phenol Explorer, the EPA pesticide exposure database).

1b. Approach (from AD-416):
Objective 1: NDL will develop estimates of the nutrient content of foods and disseminate up-to-date food composition databases, including the Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR). Estimates will be based on the analysis of representative samples as well as on the calculation of related values. The updating of the composition of existing foods (e.g., pork cuts) and the addition of new foods (e.g., energy bars) will be determined according to the strategies defined under the National Food and Nutrient Analysis Program (NFNAP). NDL will use a multi-factorial strategy for setting priorities for adding each new nutrient or class of nutrient to SR and potentially, to the WWEIA, NHANES- FNDDS survey subset of SR. Analyses will be performed at qualified commercial laboratories using AOAC (AOAC International, 2008) or equivalent methods. Data will be statistically analyzed to estimate nutrient means and to evaluate the variability of data points for sample units obtained. Other sources of nutrient data will include food industry and trade associations, other government agencies such as the FDA, and scientific literature. Final data will be approved and released in the SR. Objective 2: NDL will develop and maintain food composition databases with nationally representative values for nutrients of public health concern and/or identified potential nutritional adequacy concerns to be used as the foundation for the Food Surveys Research Group’s (FSRG) Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Surveys (FNDDS). NDL will monitor the U.S. food supply to identify those foods that should be added to SR or updated. Nutrient data for these foods will be obtained through NFNAP which focuses on foods commonly consumed (see Objective 1). Identification of foods will require close collaboration between NDL and FSRG. Objective 3: Methods to obtain and estimate representative and accurate food composition estimates will be reviewed and updated as required by the types of foods to be sampled. Protocols will be developed for correct handling of food samples to assure the stability of the nutrients of interest. NDL will plan and develop methods for enhancing electronic data transfer to expedite the acquisition of data from external sources. Objective 4: The variance estimates for select nutrients will be determined as part of the acquisition, preparation, and analysis of NFNAP samples. Temporary Approaches: Temporary Approach 1: NDL will identify a group of external advisors in concert with FCMDL and FSRG who can assist with the evaluation of current technology capabilities and future needs. Bring in external reviewers to provide written report about IT needs. Develop update plan to determine key changes needed to help optimize the sharing of food composition information. Approach 2: Acquire new hardware and software to modernize IT infrastructure to ensure high quality information is available to stakeholders (other Federal Groups,Research Community)and to the general public as appropriate/needed.

3. Progress Report:
This project supports USDA's food composition research program to develop accurate, unbiased, and representative food composition data for over 8000 foods and up to 140 nutrients and other components (e.g., flavonoids) which may be bioactive. These data are used as the foundation of most other food composition databases and related applications in the U.S. and worldwide to monitor food and nutrient intake, to conduct human nutrition research, to label foods, and to develop nutrition policy. During 2012, the Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) released the annual update of the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (SR25) ( The foods included frequently consumed products from supermarkets and quick service restaurants. The data were generated by NDL through the National Food and Nutrient Analysis Program (NFNAP) or submitted by the food industry. NDL sampled and analyzed about 100 foods through qualified contractors and four USDA specific cooperative agreements (SCAs). Sample units were purchased in 12 cities nationwide to provide a group of products representative of the specific food type. A NDL scientist worked with statisticians to update the NFNAP sampling plan for foods based on the 2010 U.S. Census. NDL continued collaborations with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and USDA agencies, including the Food Surveys Research Group (FSRG), to monitor sodium in the food supply. Of the 3000 food items from SR24 that were supplied to FSRG to develop the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) 5.0, approximately 1000—primarily commercially packaged and restaurant foods—are impacted by manufacturers' efforts to reduce the sodium content and are being monitored for changes in label value by one of several methods (e.g., selected analysis, label checks, industry submissions). One hundred and twenty-five of these foods are designated as “Sentinel” foods. NDL scientists continue to collaborate with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to update beef data for many single ingredient fresh cuts. As a result of this collaboration, NDL has finalized dissection and proximate nutrient data for eight beef round and loin cuts in the third study phase of the overall project. USDA’s food composition data are supporting the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) efforts and those of the retail meat industry in the single ingredient meat labeling program begun in January, 2012. The planned studies of statistical analysis of the data for estimates of variance have begun but the addition of the sodium project and priority shifts in other projects (completion of the new sampling plan) have delayed anticipated progress. These efforts result in a repository of current and accurate values for nutrients in foods which are consumed by a large proportion of the population.

4. Accomplishments

Review Publications
Haytowitz, D.B., Lemar, L.E., Pehrsson, P.R., Exler, J., Patterson, K.K., Thomas, R.G., Nickle, M.S., Williams, J.R., Showell, B.A., Khan, M., Duvall, M., Holden, J.M. 2011. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24. Available:

Haytowitz, D.B., Holden, J.M. 2012. Update of NDL’s list of key foods based on the 2007-2008 WWEIA-NHANES. Available:

Moshfegh, A.J., Holden, J.M., Reedy, J., Cogswell, M.E., Kuklina, E.V., Patel, S.M., Gunn, J.P., Gillespie, C., Hong, Y., Merritt, R., Galuska, D.A. 2012. Vital Signs: Food categories contributing the most to sodium consumption - United States, 2007-2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 61(5):92-98. Available:

Last Modified: 10/18/2017
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