Food composition database
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Food composition databases (FCDBs) or food composition tables are resources that provide detailed food composition data (FCD) on the nutritionally important components of foods. FCDBs provide values for energy and nutrients including protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals and for other important food components such as fibre.
Before computer technology, these resources existed in printed tables with the oldest tables dating back to the early 19th century.
In the UK, FCD are listed in tables known as The Chemical Composition of Foods, McCance and Widdowson (1940). FCDBs have become available online on the internet, for example, the USDA Dataset in the States, the Japanese food composition database and a number of European food composition databases.
FCDBs differ in both the data that is available and in the amount of data that is held. For example, some FCDBs have values for individual amino acids and/or vitamin fractions (e.g. individual carotenoids, such as lycopene and lutein). Some specialised databases are also available e.g. bioactive compounds are included in the EuroFIR eBASIS database, in the US isoflavone database and in the French Phenol-Explorer database. In addition, the 2009 version of the Swiss FCDB contains 935 foods, while the recent version of the USDA FCDB includes over 7,500 foods. Some databases include a wider range of processed foods, composite dishes and recipes as well as foods prepared and cooked in different ways. For example, in the UK FCDB bacon rashers are included as raw, dry-fried, grilled, grilled crispy or microwaved.
The data are estimations.
- Variability in the composition of foods between countries, owing to, for example, season, cultivar or variety, brand, fortification levels
- Incomplete coverage of foods or nutrients leading to missing values
- Age of data (limited resources mean that, inevitably, some values are not current)
Collection process 
FCDBs are usually created using a variety of methods including (see Food composition data):
- Chemical analysis of food samples carried out in analytical laboratories
- Imputing and calculating values from data already within the database
- Estimating values from other sources, including manufacturers food labels, scientific literature and FCDBs from other countries.
Some of the earliest work related to detecting adulterated foods and finding the active components of medicinal herbs.
Food composition tables in the format known today were published towards the end of the 19th century although, some tables on the chemical composition of mineral waters were assembled by Morveau as early as 1780. In 1896, tables from the USA were published, incorporating nearly 2600 analyses of a wide range of foods including the main food groups, as well as some processed foods. Values for foods were presented as ‘refuse’, water, protein, fats, carbohydrates, ash, and ‘fuel value’.
The first UK tables, known as McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods, were published in 1940. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) published tables for international use and initially intended these for the assessment of food availability at the global level. A list of International FCDBs can be found on the National Food Institute - Technical University of Denmark's (DTU) website.
- Atwater WO & Woods CD (1896) The chemical composition of American food materials. US Office of Experiment Stations, Experiment Stations Bulletin 28. Government Printing Office: Washington, DC. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=9447
- FSA (2002) McCance and Widdowson’s The Composition of Foods, 6th Summary Edition. Cambridge: Royal Society of Chemistry.
- Bhagwat S, Haytowitz DB & Holden JM (2008) U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA) Database for the Isoflavone Content of Selected Foods, Release 2.0. Nutrient Data. Available at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/isoflav/Isoflav_R2.pdf
- Neveu V, Perez-Jiménez J, Vos F, Crespy V et al (2010) Phenol-Explorer: an online comprehensive database on polyphenol contents in foods. Database, doi: 10.1093/database/bap024.
- Church S (2009) Food composition explained. EuroFIR Synthesis report No. 7. Nutrition Bulletin 34: 250-272.
- Colombani PC (2011) On the origins of food composition tables. J Food Compos Anal 24: 732-737 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jfca.2010.09.007
- McCance RA & Widdowson EM (1940) The Chemical Composition of Foods, Medical Research Council Special Report Series No. 235. His Majesty’s Stationery Office: London.
- Chatfield C (1949) Food composition tables for international use. FAO Nutritional Study No 3. FAO UN: Washington, DC. Available at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/x5557e/x5557e00.htm
Further reading 
- Church S. (2005) The history of European food composition databases. Synthesis report No. 1. http://www.eurofir.net/sites/default/files/EuroFIR%20synthesis%20reports/Synthesis%20Report%201_The%20History%20of%20European%20Food%20Composition%20Databases.pdf
- Greenfield H & Southgate DAT (2003) Food Composition Data: Production, Management and Use, 2nd edn. FAO: Rome. Available at: http://www.fao.org/infoods/publications_en.stm
- Kirk RS & Sawyer R, ed. (1991) Pearson’s Composition and Analysis of Foods, 9th edn. Longman Scientific and Technical: Harlow, UK.
- Merrill AL & Watt BK (1973) Energy value of foods, basis and derivation. Agriculture Handbook No: 74. United States Department of Agriculture: Washington, DC. Available at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/Data/Classics/ah74.pdf
- Williamson C. (2005) The different uses of food composition databases. Synthesis report No. 2. http://www.eurofir.net/sites/default/files/EuroFIR%20synthesis%20reports/Synthesis%20Report%202_The%20different%20uses%20of%20food%20composition%20databases.pdf