| Food Composition Data: A User's Perspective (1987) |
|The uses of food composition data|
|Nutrient composition data uses and needs of food companies|
Available food composition data
The food composition data available are limited to a few sources. An important factor in selecting nutrient composition data is the acceptability of the source to regulatory agencies and scientific groups. The selection of these data is based on well-recognized and scientifically sound sources that will not be subjected to challenge once a product is marketed. This increases acceptance of the products by consumers who are familiar with the need to validate nutrient content for menu planning, for example in hospitals, schools, and other institutions.
USDA, "Composition of Foods," Agricultural Handbook No. 8 and 8-1 to 8-11
This is the primary source of food composition data used in the calculation and formulation of processed food products in the United States , and has the advantage of being generally recognized as acceptable to regulatory agencies (USDA, FDA, FTC, etc.), and nutrition and dietetic communities. However, it must be recognized that much of the data in Handbook No. 8 is 20 to 30 years old, incomplete, and may not apply to current food products, for example to basic staples which have changed due to genetics, and processed foods which are continually undergoing development and change to meet consumer demands. Handbook No.8 values can be used in international trade, but often are not acceptable for both scientific and political reasons.
Other Food Composition Data
The FAO Nutritional Studies, no. 24, which gives amino-acid data on foods , is widely accepted in developing and socialist countries. The data compiled in the publication are considerably older and focus prominently on basic food ingredients; they are not the same as those given by USDA. McCance and Widdowson's The Composition of Foods  provides another excellent source of nutrient composition data, which, while it is directed primarily at foods in the United Kingdom, is relatively current and covers a wide range of nutrients.
Most food companies generate nutrient composition data on their own products, on specific ingredients and on competitive products, and many are particularly well equipped for conducting food composition analyses. Since these analyses are kept current through constant monitoring programmes, they are often more reliable than existing data-base information. Companies may supply data on their products for use in data bases, but may not make available other ingredient information. Similarly, some proprietary information on products may not be released, especially if the products are subject to periodic changes in formulation.
Regulations require that a high percentage of a product meets or exceeds the nutrient levels stated on the label. Label information may therefore understate nutrient composition in order to comply with regulatory needs, with the result that average or typical values are often higher than specified.
Manufacturers' product data sheets are sometimes used when information from a recognized data base is either unavailable or inappropriate. The latter may be due to product changes or to improvements in analytical procedures. Most manufacturers have nutrient data available on their food products.
Published data on specific foods or food ingredients are used to supply specific nutrient information when: (a) these are unavailable from documented data bases, (b) the data are new, or (c) the data are more current and reliable than those contained in the data bases. It requires some effort to determine the reliability of the data source and the compatibility of the methodology with similar values from other data sources.