With the FDA compliance date for calorie labeling on menus fast approaching, one of our MenuCalc clients had a big decision to make for her chain of sushi restaurants. As the head chef, she knew she needed to get started on getting her recipes analyzed for their calorie counts and detailed nutrition information, but she didn’t know which recipe analysis method to choose.
Basically, she had two options; she could send samples of her recipes to a food lab for analysis, or she could use database nutrition analysis.
Our client’s biggest concern was making sure whatever form of analysis she chose was as accurate as possible. She felt she had a duty to her customers to provide them with truthful nutrition information they could really count on. At the same time, she did have to stay within her budget, so she was looking for an affordable option.
If you are also unsure what the most accurate form of nutritional analysis is, let’s look at your options, how well they perform, and how much each costs so you can make an educated decision and finish your analysis before the May 2018 compliance date.
Comparing the Two Types of Nutrition Analysis: Accuracy vs. Cost
Food lab analysis and nutritional database analysis each have pros and cons, but both are accepted and recognized by the FDA, so it’s really up to you to choose the one that best suits your needs. Here are some of the features and drawbacks of each type of analysis:
Food Lab Analysis
Food lab analysis involves sending samples of your recipes away to a food lab for them to chemically analyze. The good news is, this type of analysis provides accurate nutrition information—but only for that particular sample. The nutritional value of ingredients, like fresh produce, for instance, changes from season to season and depends on where and how it was grown. Plus, the way you process or cook that particular item may change over time, which will alter the values as well.
Food lab analysis is also very pricey (about $800 per sample, depending on the lab) and time-consuming, as it typically takes a month to receive your results. If you have menu items that have been heavily processed or deep fried, however, you do have to use lab analysis, as they can accurately measure the amount of oil that transferred to the product as well as other chemical changes that will impact the nutritional values.
Nutritional Database Analysis
Unlike food lab analysis, nutritional database analysis does not require samples of your prepared recipe. All you need is an accurate, detailed recipe to determine nutritional values. Essentially, databases contain thousands of ingredients with predetermined nutrition information gathered through extensive lab analysis of several samples over time. These ingredients appear in various forms (i.e. cooked or raw) and therefore account for nutrient loss during cooking and processing. Using a nutritional database, you can find these ingredients as they are listed in your recipe, enter the amounts of each, and will have your results in mere minutes.
The cost of nutritional database analysis varies greatly. Independent consultants who use database nutrition analysis to do the work for you charge as much as $400 per recipe analysis. CD-ROM nutrition analysis may seem inexpensive, but it often comes with a lot of hidden costs. Ultimately, online database nutrition analysis is the most affordable, with great options as low as $5 per recipe.
Online Nutrition Recipe Analysis for Maximizing Accuracy
Nutritional database analysis provides highly accurate results, and if you use an online nutrition database analysis software, it can also be incredibly affordable. It is, however, important to keep in mind that not all databases are created equal.
Below are a few important features to look for when determining which online nutrition software to choose:
- USDAA-Compiled Ingredient Database: The USDAA provides dependable nutrition analysis of ingredients, so make sure the software you use is based on their information. Also, having at least 16,000 ingredients (hopefully more like 18,000) means it will likely have all the ingredients present in your recipes.
- FDA-Compliance: A database that complies with the standards for nutrition databases will ensure accurate nutrition analysis results.
- A Function Allowing You to Add Proprietary Ingredients: This feature is necessary if your recipe contains an ingredient that isn’t already in the database. As long as you have the nutrient values (which you can find on the packaging) for the product, you can enter your own ingredient and complete the analysis normally.
- Expert Nutrition Consultants: Expert nutrition consultants are incredibly valuable resources who not only provide product accountability but can help you with any challenges you face or answer any questions.
- An Analysis-Storing Feature: Being able to revisit your securely saved recipe analysis to quickly and easily make any changes to your recipes is key to providing accurate nutritional values for your customers.
In the end, our client decided to use online nutrition database analysis software to obtain nutrition information for the majority of the menu items at her chain of restaurants, and she was incredibly glad that she did. Not only was she able to provide her customers with the most accurate nutrition information available, she was able to stay well within her budget. And while she did have to send her three deep-fried items to the lab, the cost wasn’t nearly as high as it would have been if she’d used a lab for all her items. In the end, it really paid off to do her due diligence when researching the best form of recipe analysis for maximizing accuracy at her restaurants.
MenuCalc’s FDA-compliant online nutritional analysis software uses a database of USDAA-compiled ingredients to ensure you are providing the most accurate nutrition information to your diners at the best price. Contact us today to set up an account and get started.