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U.S. Agriculture Department opens nutrition database

Wed 9 Nov 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has opened up its database of nutritional information to accept submissions from food manufacturers, creating a publicly-accessible nutrition index of grocery items.

The Agriculture Research Service’s (ARS) Food Composition Databases has existed for almost a century, but only ever reached up to around 8,000 entries. Since opening up the campaign to manufacturers, this figure has risen 1,000% to 80,000 items.

Pamela Stark Reed, deputy administrator for Nutrition, Food Safety and Quality, explained that anyone who produces food goods can work alongside the ARS to feed data from their labels and packaging information directly into the database.

‘We’ve had manufacturers’ data before, but never to the extent that we’re starting to see now that they can import right into the database,’ said Reed.

The information that is fed into the system from participating manufacturers undergoes a series of ARS quality control measures to ensure that the data matches with the product.

Reed commented that most U.S. citizens will have already benefited from the resource, via Google searches. ‘This is actually already available. When you go to Google for certain nutritional information… Google actually goes to the ARS database to get the information… So it’s fully available now from your iPhone.’

On the announcement, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack, commented: “The database is more proof that governments, non-profits, businesses and researchers are capable of fostering scientific innovation by making life-changing data open and available to parents, healthcare professionals, scientists, businesses and everyone interested. I look forward to being surprised by innovations we have not even thought of yet as a result of so much information becoming so reliable and accessible.”

Reed added that the ARS is hoping to expand the number of database entries to 1,000,000, covering own-brand ranges, international food items, and chain restaurant brands. Scaling to this size, Reed suggested that the agency is considering cloud services to increase its storage capacity.

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