Making the Most of USDA Ingredient Databases

Choosing an online nutrition analysis software with a USDA ingredient database is the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to get an accurate nutrition facts panel.

Choosing an online nutrition analysis software with a USDA ingredient database is the easiest, cheapest, and quickest way to get an accurate nutrition facts panel. Image source: Unsplash user Ilia Pavlov.

Last week, I was speaking with a prospective client, and we got to talking about the different types of nutrition analysis. She had spent a lot of time perusing the internet for various online nutrition database analysis programs and scoping out food labs for chemical analysis of her product, but she was unsure which method to use.

I told her that using database analysis would be the best option for her, but that if she did end up going that route, to choose a software with a USDA-compiled ingredient database. This led us down another path of conversation, as she didn’t understand the difference between USDA-compiled ingredient databases and other databases.

If you are a food manufacturer and you are also confused about what type of nutrition analysis to use, listen up. I am going to fill you in on why database analysis, and specifically USDA-compiled database analysis, is the best way to go.

The Benefits of Database Nutrition Analysis

As a food manufacturer, you basically have two options when it comes to how you are going to get nutrition information for your product’s nutrition facts panel: lab analysis and database analysis. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Food Lab Analysis

For food lab analysis, you will need to send samples of your product to a food lab where they can be chemically analyzed. This type of analysis will give you highly accurate nutrition information. The problem is, you have to be certain you won’t make any tweaks to your product once you send it in for analysis. If you do, you’ll have to send another sample in.  

  • Cost: Typically about $700 or $800 per sample, depending on the lab.
  • Benefits: If your product is heavily processed or deep fried, as in the case of potato chips, you do have to use lab analysis because only a lab can accurately measure the amount of oil that was absorbed by your product and any chemical changes that will affect the results.
  • Drawbacks: It can be quite time-consuming to ship off your products, especially since it can take up to a month to receive results. So, if you are minding a budget or trying to get your product on retail shelves quickly, this isn’t the type of analysis for you.

Nutritional Database Analysis

Nutritional database analysis is different than lab analysis in that it does not require you to send samples of your product anywhere and wait for results unless you are working with a consultant who is using database analysis. If you are doing it yourself with an online software, however, you’ll just need an accurate and detailed recipe for your product.

  • Cost: Online database analysis can cost as little as $5 per recipe, depending on the company you choose.
  • Benefits: Nutrition database analysis is quick and easy to use. When working with a software like LabelCalc, all you have to do is input your recipe by searching for your ingredients in the database and entering the appropriate amounts. Then, your nutrition facts panel will be instantly generated.
  • Drawbacks: Can’t be used for fried or heavily processed food products.

How USDA Ingredient Databases Maximize Accuracy

If you feel like nutritional database analysis is the best option for your product, you’re definitely going to want to choose one that has a USDA-compiled database. While there are many software programs out there that claim to provide nutrition analysis, many of them are low quality and can’t be used for food items that are FDA-regulated and sold to the public.

Here are the two main reasons why it is important to choose a software with a USDA ingredient database for your nutrition facts panel:

  • Accuracy: Each ingredient in a USDA-compiled database has undergone extensive chemical analysis for utmost accuracy. Not one, but several samples have been taken of each food over time so that any variances due to season or region of the world where it was grown are considered. Average values are then calculated from the results.
  • Variety: USDA-compiled databases contain thousands of ingredients and a ton of variety within each one. For example, if your product contains tomatoes, a good USDA-compiled database will have several types of tomatoes to choose from (i.e. Roma, cherry, grape, beefsteak, vine) and different preparations (i.e. cooked or raw) to account for nutrient loss. This makes it easy for you to find exactly what your recipe calls for. Just be sure to look for a software that has upwards of 18,000 ingredients in their USDA-compiled database, as it will be easier for you to find the specific ingredients you are looking for.

Online nutrition analysis software with USDA-compiled databases are a food manufacturer’s dream—especially when the software has other great features like proprietary ingredient nutritional analysis that lets you add your own ingredients to the database or automatic rounding to comply with the FDA’s rounding rules. Not only does this save you a lot of time, allowing you to start selling your product in stores, but online nutrition analysis software also prevents a great deal of confusion. And let’s face it, as a busy food manufacturer, you don’t have time for confusion.

LabelCalc is an FDA-compliant, industry-leading online nutrition analysis software with an extensive USDA-compiled ingredient database. For more advice, reach out to one of our expert consultants. To start making your nutrition facts panel with us, contact us today.

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