Acquiring spot-on information about current and potential markets for food products can provide food manufacturers with an advantage in today's keenly competitive times.
Scientists at the US Agricultural Research Service's Food Surveys Research Group (FSRG) have developed a system for achieving nearly total recall for food consumed.
Called the Automated Multiple Pass Method (AMPM), the survey instrument helps people remember and report the foods they ate over 24 hours. It consists of a specialised software programme, operated by trained interviewers. The method is now the primary instrument used to collect dietary food intake data from individuals sampled in the US in national surveys.
AMPM is now the cornerstone of the FSRG's Dietary Intake Data System - an overarching infrastructure of computer programmes and databases that serves as the backbone for the federal government's annual national survey, known as 'What We Eat in America'.
For the new five-step system, people are first encouraged to tell the interviewers about the foods they remembered eating the day before. The second step involves probing the respondent's mind for forgotten foods. Carefully crafted questions, embedded with word triggers and probes, ignite memories of potentially forgotten foods eaten.
During the third step, answers already given are readdressed in the context of an 'eating occasion', such as breakfast, snack, or lunch, as well as a time of day. For example, the interviewer will ask, "What would you call that eating occasion?"
The five-step system was designed so that respondents are more in control during the first three steps. The fourth step is reserved for more difficult, detail-oriented questions, 'carefully executed by the interviewer after having developed a rapport', to increase the possibility of eliciting a thoughtful response.
The fifth step provides one last opportunity to remember foods that were consumed.
Late last year, FSRG completed the data-collection phase of a large-scale human research study designed to measure the effectiveness of AMPM. Preliminary research findings show the method enabled the first 100 volunteers to recall what they had eaten to within 2 per cent of the actual calories used.
The AMPM validation study has created a large database on diet, energy expenditure, weight status, body composition, physical activity, fitness, and biochemical indices of diet and health of 525 adult participants recruited last year for the first large validation study. The study's large core of data may be used as the foundation for future diet and health studies, said the FSRG will continue analysing the data over the next year.
Nearly 50 years ago, US Congress mandated that a continuing survey - the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) - be conducted periodically to collect statistical data about the current dietary intake and health of people in the US. In 2002, AMPM was first used to collect the dietary intake component of the national survey.