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Quality control in national reference food composition databases 

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: National Nutrition Monitoring
: food composition, data quality, food sampling design plans
: Josephine Deeks33 21 Sep 2012
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In order to utilize the food consumption data results in terms of nutrient intakes for nutrition population studies, governments must maintain a reliable, unbiased, nationally representative database of the nutrient profiles of commonly consumed foods. These national reference nutrient databases should strive not to try be all things to all people. As far as is possible the data should be generated by parties outside of vested interest (food industry) through a program that includes sample plans that account for all major sources of variability, and cover a large share of the national market. Foods should usually be generic, the sample plan including the largest market share brands and enough composites analyzed to yield a meaningful range (variability) about the mean. Anaysis should be carried out in laboratories which are accredited to international standards and employing established quality control procedures. In most cases, brand name product specific data in reference databases should be avoided. These data are not of adequate comprehensiveness, little background information on sampling or analysis, are rounded, carry no indication of variability for risk assessment and quickly become out of date as the market changes. Product specific data can be very useful for certain applications such as individual diet assessment. Repositories of these data are welcome for these applications, although ensuring currency of the data is a daunting task. They should not be included within the national reference database however. If the nutrient data is of poor quality so are the survey results and all of the health policy and risk assessement activities that depend on these two sources as a foundation. The need to continue to safeguard the quality of this valuable resource outweighs the trend toward a one stop shopping idea for nutrient information.

1) Morton Satin4 (25 Sep 2012)
There has been a critical problem with our food composition databases since the Atwater tables were first published. The problem is significant, which may be the reason it was never tackled. There is no clear cut relationship to digestibility and consequently bioavailability of nutrients. It is a very old problem that will not go away. As a result, the tables are very misleading, particularly when it comes to products with limited digestibility. Not only do the current values misinform the consumer, but they prevent a further understanding of the dynamics of digestion on the part of consumers. Product with low digestibility will also decrease the digestibility/bioavailability of other foods consumed at the same time. Anyone seeking dietary guidance from the data will be mislead by a certain degree which is not insignificant. It is a complicated matter, however, an approach to the inclusion of this information cannot be avoided forever. In the meantime, this significantly diminishes the practical value of the current food databases.
2) Connye Kuratko16 (10 Oct 2012)
The Nutrient Data Laboratory (NDL) is responsible for developing and disseminating authoritative composition databases for over 8000 foods in the American diet. USDA should continue to prioritize this important aspect of human nutrition research and dietary guidance. However, in a rapidly changing food marketplace, the expectation that the NDL will accomplish timely and accurate updates of all foods without industry collaboration seems unrealistic. For example, response to consumer demands for trans-fat free foods and leaner animal protein products has led to rapid changes in the nutrition profile of numerous foods in today’s marketplace. The NDL has effectively collaborated with the beef and pork industry to bring about a significant updates to National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and should continue to do so. Well-designed collaborative studies with other food industry groups could serve to update and ensure the accuracy of other key foods and nutrients in foods such as omega-3 fatty acids in fish and agricultural products modified to have higher omega-3 content such as shell eggs.