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Frequently Asked Questions

Questions

Answers

Background and Uses

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Q: Why was the Food Value Analysis tool created?
A: It was created to allow comparisons of a range of values for foods prepared from a recipe in the home kitchen with various other forms. The values that can be compared are nutrients, food groups, shelf life, food safety concerns, preparation and cooking times, and price.
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Q: How should the Food Value Analysis tool be used?
A: Nutrition educators can use it to help consumers meet dietary guidelines while considering limitations on their budgets, time, and food preparation skills. Users can compare individual foods in processed or home recipe forms or a day's menu constructed from foods in the database.
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Q: Who is the target audience for the Food Value Analysis tool?
A: It is targeted for use by nutrition educators for advising consumers on selecting foods that meet dietary guidelines while considering cost, time, and food preparation skills. Consumers knowledgeable about nutrition may also find the Food Value Analysis tool helpful. Policy analysts may find the data useful in evaluating policy options related to foods.

Selection of Foods and Serving Sizes

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Q: How were foods selected to be included in the Food Value Analysis tool?
A: Foods were selected to represent a range of commonly consumed entrees, baked goods, grain products, side dishes, fruits, vegetables, desserts, and beverages. To be included, a food must have a home recipe version in the USDA Food and Nutrition Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) or the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard References (SR).
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Q: How were the different forms of foods selected?
A: Processed and packaged forms of foods were selected from the FNDDS, SR, and Gladson Nutrition Database to match a home recipe version in the USDA databases. Up to three processed forms were included based on the available data. Newer types of processed foods were obtained primarily from the Gladson Nutrition Database.
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Q: How was the serving size selected for each food, and are the serving sizes consistent across different forms of a food?
A: Serving sizes were selected to be closest to the standard serving sizes defined in the FNDDS or the Reference Amounts Commonly Consumed (RACC). When the FNDDS and RACC gram weights for serving sizes differed, the serving sizes of commercially available products were used as the basis to select the closest size to the FNDDS serving sizes. (For example, the gram weight of a cookie was 14 grams in FNDDS and 30 grams for the RACC. Several standard packaged cookies had serving size weights ranging from 11 to 13 grams, so a 13-gram serving size was used for all cookies.) For foods with clear units (for example, enchilada or stuffed pepper), the standard unit provided (for example, one enchilada or half a pepper) was used. For consistency, the serving size of the homemade version was used for all processed forms of the same food.

Data Sources

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Q: What was the source of the price estimates for foods?
A: Food prices were obtained from the USDA Center for Nutrition Promotion and Policy (CNPP) Food Prices Database, 2009. For food prices not available in the CNPP Food Prices Database (10 items total), the sales weighted average prices were calculated using The Nielsen Company's Homescan database. All prices were adjusted to 2011 values using the Consumer Price Index for food at home. It is important to note that food prices are calculated based on the actual quantities used in a recipe. If a household does not have a specific ingredient on hand, the initial monetary outlay for some ingredients would be much greater (for example, the cost of a container of a spice is very large compared to the cost of the amount used in an individual recipe).
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Q: What was the source of the nutrient data for foods?
A: Nutrient data were obtained from the FNDDS or SR, when available (about 93% of the foods in the application). For processed forms of the foods that did not have a food code match in either FNDDS or SR, composite nutrient data were calculated from the average of the top three selling products using the Gladson Nutrition Database.
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Q: What was the source of the food group data?
A: Food group data were obtained from the Food Patterns Equivalence Database (FPED) which has replaced the MyPyramid Equivalents Database. FPED converts foods and beverages from the FNDDS dataset into food pattern components and can be used to evaluate the degree to which foods and beverages compare to recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. From the seven major food groups available, data for several important subgroups were also included (whole grains from total grains, and eggs, soy, and nuts and seeds from total protein).
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Q: What was the source of food safety information associated with certain foods?
A: Food safety concerns were determined and assigned based primarily on information available from the Partnership for Food Safety Education, FoodSafety.gov, and the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.
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Q: What was the source of the recipes for each of the home recipe forms of the foods?
A: Home recipe versions of foods were obtained from the FNDDS when available. It is important to note that the recipes in the database are typical recipes, but food preparers may use a different recipe and may modify recipes based on individual preferences and dietary needs. To determine preparation times, cooking times, and ingredients (for shelf life and food safety concerns), recipes comparable to an FNDDS recipe were obtained from Betty Crocker Cookbook: 1500 Recipes for the Way You Cook Today or Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 15th Edition.
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Q: How can I find the recipe associated with a food code?
A: The list of food items and amounts used to estimate the nutrient content of a food can be accessed by clicking on the Home Recipe link. The original source of these data is the FNDDS-SR links file, which is one of 10 data files included in the downloadable FNDDS database on the USDA Agricultural Research Service website. This file documents the association between foods in the FNDDS and approximately 3,000 food items in the SR.
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Q: How was shelf life determined for each of the foods?
A: Shelf-life estimates were obtained from Cooperative Extension publications including the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension (Kendall, 2012), Texas Agricultural Extension Service (Van Laaneen, 2011), and Virginia Cooperative Extension (Boyer, 2009). For home recipe foods or processed foods using fresh ingredients, the shelf life was determined for the ingredient with the shortest shelf life. Shelf life for packaged foods with no additional ingredients was calculated as the length of time until the use-by or sell-by date.
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Q: How was preparation time determined for each food?
A: Food preparation times for home recipes were obtained and averaged using Betty Crocker Cookbook: 1500 Recipes for the Way You Cook Today; Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 15th Edition; and FoodNetwork.com's "Recipes and Cooking." For foods prepared from packaged foods, preparation times were obtained from package instructions. For foods without published preparation times, the foods were prepared and preparation time recorded. Preparation time could be more or less depending on the level of experience of the food preparer.
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Q: How was preparation time assigned a dollar value for each food?
A: Preparation time is assigned a dollar value using the hourly wage rate you entered or selected. If you do not enter a value, the default hourly wage rate is the average hourly earnings estimate of $19.47 for all U.S. workers in 2011 obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The value of time was calculated for "active" preparation time. Cooking time or other preparation time that does not require active involvement of the food preparer was not included in the value calculation. Although a food preparer would prepare an entire recipe at one time, the per-serving value of preparation time is calculated by dividing the value of preparation time for the recipe by the estimated number of servings.

Daily Values for Nutrients

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Q: How were the Daily Values calculated for foods?
A: Daily Values are calculated from the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), which are daily dietary intake levels of nutrient considered sufficient to meet the requirements of 97.5% of healthy individuals in each life-stage and gender group. To calculate the percent Daily Value, the nutrient value per serving of food was divided by the RDA for that nutrient and multiplied by 100.
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Q: Why are there no Daily Values provided for some nutrients?
A: Daily Values can only be calculated for nutrients that have an established RDA. Polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, total sugars, protein, and most micronutrients have no established RDA.
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Q: Why are Daily Values included only on a per-serving basis and not also on a per-100 gram basis?
A: Daily values are included only on a per-serving basis because foods are consumed as servings rather than as 100-gram portions.

Values Not Included in the Database

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Q: Does the Food Value Analysis tool account for differences in consumer preferences, such as taste or the desire to serve foods without additives or preservatives?
A: It does not account directly for differences in consumer preferences such as taste or the desire to serve more foods without additives or preservatives. When using the tool, nutrition educators can guide consumers in selecting foods based on their individual preferences while accounting for cost, nutrition, and time availability.
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Q: Does the Food Value Analysis tool account for differences in food and packaging waste across forms of a food?
A: It does not account directly for differences in food and packaging waste because of the complexity in determining measures of waste. Consumers have some degree of control over the amount of waste and recycling associated with food preparation and consumption.
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Q: Does the Food Value Analysis tool account for differences in energy costs for preparing different forms of a food?
A: It does not currently account for differences in energy costs for preparing different forms of a food. Data on energy use in food preparation is not available from existing data sources and would be extremely difficult to measure.
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Q: Does the Food Value Analysis tool account for differences in the level of convenience for different forms of a food?
A: It accounts for differences in the level of convenience of a food based on the time required to prepare and cook the food.
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Q: Does the Food Value Analysis tool account for differences in shopping trips and shopping time across forms of a food?
A: It does not account for differences in the number of shopping trips and shopping time because multiple foods are usually purchased on a shipping trip, and it is not possible to determine how consumers might group foods for purchase or change frequency of shopping based on perishability of foods of different forms.

Future Efforts

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Q: Will new foods be added to the Food Value Analysis tool in the future?
A: The tool is designed to allow for the addition of more foods over time. A new project to add more foods has not yet been planned.
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Q: Will the data in the Food Value Analysis tool be updated in the future?
A: The tool is designed to allow the data in the database to be updated in the future. This may be necessary, in particular, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases new data. A project to update the data in the database will be determined on an as needed basis when the source data are updated.

Archived data

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Q: How can I view the archived data from the first version of the Food Value Analysis tool?
A: After you select a food category to view, scroll to the bottom of the screen and select Display archived data. Note that only the food group and price data have been updated since the first version.
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