L. Arab, C.E. West
The initial Eurofoods Workshop held in Wageningen, May 29–31, 1983, was entitled ‘Eurofoods: Towards compatibility of Nutrient Data Banks in Europe’. At the workshop, 41 representatives from 17 European countries discussed the status of food analyses, food composition tables, and nutrient data banks. During the workshop, the participants were asked by means of a questionnaire which of the suggestions put forward should receive the attention of Eurofoods in the future. They were asked to express their opinions on the desirability, necessity, and feasibility of implementing each of the 22 suggestions made. The questionnaire used and the results reported by those people who completed it are presented in table V.
Most people agreed with most of the suggestions made, although there were a few execptions. For example, most people were against the idea of a central laboratory carrying out all food analyses. Opinion was almost equally divided on the desirability of having a comprehensive data base containing all available information on the nutrient content of foods. However, further discussion on this point resulted in more people supporting such a project (see section 7.2).
The priority ranking was established from priority scores given to each suggestion by each of the respondents. Highest priority was given to making nutrient information widely available on data tapes. Complete documentation of the sources of information was regarded as being very important. Information on the variability of the nutrient content of foods was listed among the top five priority issues.
The establishment of a quality control programme for nutrient analyses was considered to be of major importance, and this led to the establishment of a committee towards this end (see section 7.5). The desire was also expressed for a catalogue to be drawn up listing the laboratories in Europe carrying out analyses on specific foods or of specific nutrients.
The next highest priority was given to obtaining agreement on uniform yield and retention factors for calculating the nutrient composition of prepared foods which have not been analyzed. A somewhat related task also regarded as being of importance was that related to the uniform handling of missing values in food composition tables. Thus, a joint committee was established to address these questions (see section 7.3).
At the end of the workshop, it was concluded that cooperation on the development and maintenance of food composition tables and nutrient data banks is highly desirable. As computerized nutrient data banks are now being developed in many countries in Europe, it was decided that steps should be taken to ensure that a high degree of compatibility between these systems is achieved. To this end, the workshop made the following recommendations:
to prepare an inventory of information on the resources relevant to food composition data in Europe such as food analyses available, food composition tables, nutrient data banks, the users of such information, and the organizations involved (see section 7.6);
to collect data tapes from available food composition tables and to determine the feasibility of developing a common nutrient data bank (see section 7.2);
to explore the problems and possible alternatives in the standardization of algorithms (flow sheets) and programmes for food nutrient calculations for both large and small computers;
to collect data related to nutrient losses and gains in the preparation of foods in order to recommend factors for use in the calculation of the nutrient of such foods (see section 7.3);
to determine which values are missing in food composition tables and to establish priorities and propose interim solutions for problems of missing values until such time that analytical data become available (see section 7.3);
to set up a pilot program to provide reference food materials to laboratories that contribute analytical data to food composition tables, so that the comparability of analytical results and the feasibility of a program for quality control of analyses can by determined (see section 7.5);
to investigate the need for compiling and publishing information the nutritional value of foods in various countries of Europe for use of tourists and other visitors (see section 7.4).
Committees were formed to prepare grant proposals and to carry out the recomendations if and when funds are obtained. The tasks of these committees and the progress made are outlined in sections 7.2–7.6.
It was also decided that Eurofoods would work both independently and within the framework of Infoods. As mentioned in the Introduction, Infoods aims to promote international participation and cooperation in the acquisition and interchange of data on the nutrient composition of foods in forms appropriate to the needs of a wide range of people and organizations. Eurofoods will play an important part in reaching the goals established by Infoods, but at the same time will follow the recommendations made at the Wageningen Workshop.
Table V. Results of questionnaire distributed to those attending the 1983 Wageningen Workshop on the desirability, necessity, and feasibility of implementing suggestions for carrying out further work on food analyses, food composition tables, and nutrient data banks
|1||Communication vehicle (newsletter)||33||0||15||30||0||0|
|2||One giant comprehensive, non-edited data base||16||15||21||8||15||4|
|3||Standardization of microcomputer systems and computer languages||27||1||12||14||17||2|
|4||Standardization of nutrient-interaction formulaes (e.g., iron, vitamin C)||30||3||11||20||3||5|
|5||Uniform handling of missing values in food tables||29||8||10||23||5||2|
|6||Uniform yield and retention factors for prepared foods||24||7||6||16||8||1|
|7||Factors for estimation of edible portions of foods||27||0||13||16||1||3|
|8||Rapid publication vehicle (journal, newsletter, data base)||34||0||17||27||1||2|
|9||Catalogue of analytical laboratories for particular nutrients or foods||32||1||4||28||0||0|
|10||Quality control programs||32||2||3||24||2||1|
|11||Centralized laboratories for quality control||26||7||18||17||6||1|
|12||Centralized laboratories for all analyses||4||28||22||2||14||1|
|Recommendations: food tables|
|13||Data tapes made available||32||0||1||25||0||3|
|14||Documentation of sources of nutrient data||32||0||2||28||0||1|
|15||Variability of nutrient content within foods||31||1||5||20||3||3|
|16||Confidence intervals of methods||30||2||7||22||3||1|
|18||Encyclopedia of foods (pictures)||27||3||14||22||1||0|
|19||Reference book with description of foods with code numbers||30||2||9||23||2||3|
|20||Reference book with standard recipes for Europe||21||11||20||15||10||1|
|21||Standard for data tape translation||23||2||19||15||1||0|
|22||Standard software package||28||1||16||17||2||2|
The Eurofoods project which has received the most attention is the project aimed at developing a European nutrient data bank system. This will be formed by harmonizing and unifying nutrient data from different countries in Europe to form a common nutrient data bank for both on-line and off-line use. As shown in section 3, in Europe there are numerous sources of information on nutrient and non-nutrient levels in foods. Practically every country analyzes foodstuffs and publishes data on nutrient levels in such foods, but most of the data available are on foods from the country concerned. Although trade and travel have brought about the widespread use of foreign foods, it is often difficult to obtain and to use information on foods from another country because of difficulties with language, unfamiliarity with food names, difficulties in identification of foods in different countries, especially proprietary foods and prepared dishes, differences in units of measure, differences in units of analysis, and differences in the way data are presented. Often national data do not fulfil the needs of national users because of ‘holes’ or missing values in the tables (see section 7.3), poor documentation, and varying reliability of the data (see section 7.5). When local analyses are not available, national tables often include data from foreign tables, and often it has not been possible to verify if such data are strictly comparable.
It has, therefore, been thought necessary to bring together the various European food composition tables. Such a step will help:
to bring about a better exchange of data between countries and a more efficient utilization of resources within countries because no single country can afford to carry out analyses of all foods consumed by its people;
to enable intercountry epidemiological studies involving nutrition to be carried out: such studies include those relating diet to the aetiology of cancer and heart disease;
to enable studies examining changing food patterns in various countries to be carried out (monitoring);
to enable information about the nutrient content of foods in various countries to be supplied to occasional enquirers;
to ensure that European data on food composition are of a consistent high quality and comparable with developments elsewhere in the world;
to set up a pilot program to provide reference food materials to laboratories that of foods between countries, especially those of the European Community;
to lighten the burden of requests which nutrition experts receive to supply information on foods in various countries;
finally, to bring about the harmonization of food composition tables in Europe which is an aim of the Council of the European Community.
It is for these reasons that Eurofoods approached the Commission of the European Communities for funds to bring about a truly European nutrient data bank system. The means are not available within individual countries to solve the problems, and if they were, repetition of the same tasks in the various countries would occur. The Commission has the responsibility of promoting co-ordination between member states on such problems. As found in the survey carried out prior to the 1983 Wageningen Workshop (see section 3.20), food composition tables in European countries differ in the way data are presented, and this leads to apparent differences in the nutrient content of similar foods when calculated using different food composition tables or nutrient data banks. If each country has easy access to data in other European countries, the individual national food composition tables could be improved and expanded in a constructive and efficient manner. Early in 1985, the Commission approved a grant towards the cost of paying for a preliminary study which is intended as the first phase of a three-phase project. Phase two is the design and construction of the data base, while phase three involves making the data base available.
The preliminary study can be divided into a number of separate but interrelated activities: (1) development of a common coding system; (2) examination of the differences between national food composition tables and developing ways that they can be harmonized; (3) development of a test data bank; (4) inventory of food composition tables, examination of the needs of potential users of a merged data base (see section 7.6), and (5) market survey.
Development of a Common Coding System
One of the most important tasks in establishing a nutrient data bank system is to develop a common coding system. In addition to being an essential part of the merging process, a common coding system would provide the user with a system for checking food identity and resolving most of the problems in using data from other countries. The identification of the appropriate series compositional data appropriate to the food of which the intake has been measured would also be assisted by this coding. Initial development of a common coding system has been carried out by the Federal Health Office of the Ministry of Family, Youth and Health of the Federal Republic of Germany in cooperation with representatives from The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and more recently France. A draft code was developed and has been discussed at tow workshops, the first of which was in Luxembourg in December 1984 and the second in Heidelberg in February 1985. The initial work on the code was coordinated by Prof. Helmut Rottka in Berlin, while the subsequent work is being coordinated by Dr. Lenore Arab in Heidelberg who is being assisted by Miss Marion Wittler.
Examination of the Differences between National Food Composition Tables and Developing Ways in which the Tables Can Be Harmonized
As shown in section 3, food composition tables and nutrient data banks in the countries of Europe vary in the number of foods covered and the nutrients included. In addition, from the survey carried out prior to the 1983 workshop, it can be seen that there are also differences in the conversion factors applied to deriving data (for example, for calculating the protein content from nitrogen analyses and for calculating the energy value of carbohydrate) and in the reliability of the data. Much work has been done on the development of guidelines for the preparation of food composition tables. This work is being carried out by Dr. David Southgate in Norwich and Dr. Heather Greenfield in Sydney under the aegis of Infoods and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences. An initial draft of the guidelines was discussed at an Infoods workshop early in 1985, and a draft for general distribution should be available for comment in August 1985. However, in addition to this work, it will be necessary to examine the differences between national food composition tables and to examine ways in which the tables can be harmonized. This work will also be carried out in Heidelberg by Dr. Arab and Miss Wittler. At the same time, the Eurofoods group working on nutrient losses and gains during food preparation and on missing values in food composition tables will also be working (see section 7.3). The results of this work will also be able to be incorporated into the Eurofoods nutrient data bank system.
Development of a Test Data Base
It is planned to develop a test data base in Heidelberg for a limited number of foods and nutrients using data tapes from several national nutrient data banks. This is expected to be available for presentation at the Eurofoods meeting to be held in Norwich in August 1985.
Before the expensive work of the second and third phases of the development of the Eurofoods nutrient data bank system, it will be necessary to carry out a market survey to estimate the number and characteristics of potential users of a merged European data base in its various forms.
It is expected that all of the work in phase one of the project will be carried out before the end of 1985. By then, it is hoped that funds will have been found to carry out phase two which is the design and construction of the data base. Then funds will have to be sought for making the data base available in a variety of ways suitable for a wide range of users including the research workers who initiated the project, government agencies, and casual users. It is envisaged that the data base will be available on-line and that a variety of products including books, data tapes, and floppy disks with appropriate programs will be produced.
This project is divided into two parts: the first related to nutrient losses and gains and the second to missing values. The main task related to nutrient losses and gains in the preparation of foods is to collect data, so that factors can be recommended for use in the calculation of the nutrient content of such foods. These factors have two components. The first component is the yield when primary ingredients (at the pre-preparation stage) are compared with prepared food and also with food as consumed. The second component is the change in the amount of a specific nutrient when a food is prepared. Data on such nutrient losses and gains are still lacking for many foods consumed in Europe, although a start has been made with the study carried out by COST 91 of the Commission of the European Communities; the results of which have been published . Much of the work on nutrient losses and gains to be carried out under the aegis of Eurofoods will be done in Uppsala under the guidance of Mrs. Lena Bergström, while some work will also be done in Stuttgart by Dr. Bognar of the Institut für Ernährungsökonomie und -soziologie der Bundesforschungsanstalt für Ernährung.
The task related to missing values in food composition tables is necessary because data on the concentration of nutrients are not available for all foods listed in most food composition tables. In order to obtain such data, analyses have to be carried out, but it will be a long time before the data will be complete, especially for those foods which do not make a major contribution to the national diet. However, many of these foods make a major contribution to the intake of specific nutrients for certain individuals or groups of individuals. Thus, it is necessary to make an estimate because it is preferable to have an estimate rather than to have a zero when calculating nutrient intake. For the estimation of missing values, it would be highly desirable if there were international guidelines which may need to be different for different types of foods and for each nutrient. The work on missing values will be coordinated from Wageningen by Miss Wija van Staveren. Miss Brigitte Meyer who worked with Prof. Karg and Dr. Bognar in Stuttgart will be working on the project in Wageningen for the first half of 1985.
1 COST 91: Home cooking: nutrient changes and emerging problems. Proceedings of a workshop held at the Istituto Nazionale della Nutrizione, Rome 1982.
The aim of this project is to compile information on foods commonly eaten in individual countries in Europe and to publish it in a form suitable for tourists and other visitors to the countries. Attention will be directed towards the requirements of particular groups such as:
those people who need to choose foods in order to adhere to a diet for medical reasons, e.g., people with diabetes, hypertension, or coronary heart disease;
those people who need to avoid strictly certain foods for medical reasons such as people with food allergy to egg protein or gluten and those with congenital or acquired enzyme deficiencies (e.g., lactose deficiency);
those people who wish to avoid strictly certain foods because of religion (e.g., Muslims, Jews, and Hindus) or because of personal preference (e.g., vegetarians).
For each country, one manuscript will be prepared and then distributed to other countries participating in the project where it will be translated, if necessary, and incorporated into a book for people from that country. For example, for the Dutch edition of the Eurofoods travellers food guide, information on the most important foods available will be obtained in Dutch. This material will then be edited in a book for the use of Dutch visitors to other countries. A proposal has been completed, and funds are being sought for preliminary investigation. This investigation will examine the feasibility of the project and try fo find support for the necessary background work and for publishing the food guides. Contact is being made with organizations and government agencies responsible for supplying nutritional information to the public as well as with commercial publishers. The project is being coordinated by Dr. Cramwinckel in Wageningen.
The aim of Eurofoods is to improve the compatibility of nutrient data banks in Europe. At the Wageningen Workshop, it was proposed that a trial be carried out to determine to what extent discrepancies between nutrient values for apparently the same product in the food tables of different countries are caused by differences in analytical procedures in laboratories that contribute to these tables. The aim of such a study would, therefore, not be to establish reference methods; on the contrary, all participants would be encouraged to apply the methods used routinely in their respective laboratories.
The proposed trial is now being implemented, and 20 laboratories in 10 countries are participating. It is being organized by Prof. Martin B. Katan and carried out by the State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products (Dutch acronym: Rikilt) in Wageningen under the direction of Ir. Peter C.H. Hollman. Rikilt has had much experience in the execution of collaborative trials.
During February 1985, samples of egg powder, full-fat milk powder, rye meal, whole-wheat meal, biscuits, and butter beans were distributed. The samples had been carefully homogenized and checked for homogeneity by analysis for nitrogen and, where considered necessary, also for ash and total fat. Each laboratory has been asked to analyze the samples for moisture, protein, total fat, available carbohydrate (i.e., the sum of sugars and starch, total dietary fibre, and ash). All reports from the participating laboratories are due in by the end of May, and the results will be reported at the Eurofoods Workshop in Norwich in August 1985.
If the trial should bring to light serious discrepancies in analytical results between laboratories, then a follow-up would be done to try to establish a collection of reference food materials with known nutrient values. The BCR (a department of the Commission of the European Communities concerned with the development of reference materials) has expressed an interest in the study, and this could lead to the establishment of materials with certified nutrient values. If the BCR were to decide to establish such materials, some of its concerns would be: (1) to establish the long-term stability of nutrient values in candidate reference materials; (2) to have large uniform batches of materials produced and to determine their homogeneity, and (3) to bring together expert laboratories from member countries of the European Communities to have analyses perfomed, and to try to reach agreement on nutrient values which can be considered to be the most accurate at the current state of the art.
BCR has funds at its disposal to allow it to contract laboratories to do this type of research. It also has funds for workshops in Brussels where studies such as the one being carried out can be evaluated and where new studies can be planned.
As outlined in section 3, prior to the Wageningen workshop in May 1983, information was collected both through the country reports and through the questionnaire on food composition tables and nutrient banks. The task of this project will be to continue and to expand this work by collecting information on the resources relevant to food composition data in Europe. Such information includes: (1) food composition tables and other sources of data; (2) nutrient data bases including information on methods of organization, funding, and availability to other users; (3) methods of nomenclature and classification of foods including food dictionaries; (4) analytical resources including a list of institutes and individuals analyzing foods with information on foodstuffs and nutrients analyzed, sampling methods, analytical methods, and quality control; (5) a list of major users of food composition data in its various forms, and (6) a list of organizations or groups interested in the activities of Eurofoods.
The collection, analysis, and dissemination of all this important information is a major undertaking. It will be necessary first to define the tasks more specifically and then to find the resources to carry them out. As the results of this work are vital for Infoods, it is hoped that much of the funding for these activities can come from Infoods. It will also be necessary to apply money and resources which become available to Eurofoods from other sources to the inventory project. It is planned to present an updated list of European food composition tables and nutrient data banks at the Eurofoods Meeting in Norwich in August 1985.
Since Eurofoods was established, much work has been carried out in obtaining the various projects started. This work is now beginning to bear fruit as has been discussed earlier in this section.
Eurofoods has developed strong relationships with Infoods at the global level and with Norfoods at the regional level. This has led to cooperation and the avoidance of duplication of effort.
Money has been the major problem of Eurofoods up until the present. Grants have been obtained to carry out a number of specific projects. However, more money is required not only for such activities, but also to provide an adequate secretariat to strengthen coordination and to keep participants in Eurofoods and others fully informed of what has happened and what is being planned for the future. Thus, the most urgent task is to seek and obtain adequate funds to allow this work to proceed.
Progress will be reviewed at the meeting to be held in Norwich August 25–28, 1985, immediately after the XIIIth International Congress of Nutrition in Brighton. At the meeting, the future of Eurofoods will be mapped out. There is certainly a lot to be done, but a good start has been made towards bringing about compatibility of food composition tables and nutrient data banks in Europe.