FDA’s Total Diet Study: An Ongoing Look at What’s in Our Food
Monitoring America’s intake of foodborne contaminants and nutrients
Somewhere, every day, the Food and Drug Administration’s food-safety programs are inspecting farms and companies and testing the foods they produce, to keep harmful products from reaching your table. But a different FDA program, the Total Diet Study (TDS), asks different kinds of questions; for example, what are the amounts of various chemical contaminants and nutrients the average person gets from the average American diet in one day? In one year? Or longer? From what foods?
Looking at the answers is a first step toward helping us decide if a contaminant is a risk to the public health or to specific groups of people. It also helps us determine if the average American diet provides too much or not enough of specific nutrients.
How we conduct the study
Four times a year, FDA goes shopping. We do a “market-basket survey”; that is, we buy about 280 different kinds of foods from the same grocery stores where consumers shop, then prepare and cook the foods in the same ways consumers usually would. We analyze the foods for more than 800 chemical contaminants, including radiation, pesticides, and other chemical toxins, and for levels of different nutrients.
The TDS has been underway since 1961, starting with the monitoring of radiation in food and adding other contaminants and nutrients to the list since then. The study helps us estimate not only how much of these substances the average person takes in over time, from the average diet, but also from what foods, specifically.
How we use the TDS data
The data from the TDS are available on the FDA website, for anyone to use; for example, by other government agencies, researchers, public-interest groups, and the food industry. At FDA, we use TDS data in our risk assessment program, to provide information that helps us focus our food-safety programs and policies.
If you have questions about the Total Diet Study, email TDS@fda.hhs.gov.