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Measurements and Standards to Support Nutrition Labeling


The Chemical Sciences Division is working to provide food-matrix reference materials to facilitate compliance with nutritional labeling laws, provide traceability for food exports, improve the accuracy of label information for packaged foods, and contribute to studies of human nutritional status. Approximately 30 food-matrix SRMs and RMs are available to support these measurement needs; examples include infant formula, baby food, meat homogenate, fish tissue, baking chocolate, peanut butter, spinach, and food oils. Efforts are ongoing to provide additional materials that are representative of foods with a broad range of fat, protein, and carbohydrate compositions.


Well-characterized certified reference materials are needed by laboratories in the food testing and nutrition communities to facilitate compliance with labeling laws and improve the accuracy of information provided on product labels so that consumers can make good choices. As a result of the enactment of the Infant Formula Act of 1980 and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, the Chemical Sciences Division has worked to develop a series of food-matrix Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) characterized for nutrient concentrations. 

Food manufacturers and processors and analytical laboratories involved with the characterization of food composition will use the SRMs to develop and validate new analytical methods, to improve the quality of their analytical measurements, to provide a foundation to which label information can be linked, and as a component in achieving traceability. The SRMs are provided to help support compliance with a number of federal regulations enforced by the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Additional Technical Details:

The Infant Formula Act of 1980 and the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA) were the original driving forces behind the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST’s) introduction of food-matrix Standard Reference Materials (SRMs) with values assigned for nutrients. Several food-matrix SRMs were issued prior to this with values assigned for elements. In response to these laws, NIST began to produce food-matrix SRMs with values assigned for organic nutrients. During this period of time, the Association of Official Analytical Chemists (now AOAC International) developed a model of food composition to classify foods into groups with similar composition. The AOAC food triangle is based on the relative levels of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. The triangle is divided into nine sectors, and the corners of the triangle represent 100 % fat, protein, or carbohydrate. The premise for this model is that foods within each of the nine sectors will offer similar analytical challenges. Over the past 10 years, NIST has worked to develop Standard Reference Materials with proximate compositions that fall within each of the nine sectors of the AOAC food triangle. Foods from animal, plant, and mixed-matrix sources are represented in the SRMs that have been issued. New materials are planned to address measurement needs for specific analyte classes (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids).

Major Accomplishments:     

Twenty-six SRMs have been produced with values assigned for proximates, vitamins, elements, fatty acids, contaminants, and cholesterol.

Analytical methods have been developed for the measurement of targeted organic analytes based on isotope dilution mass spectrometry. 

Position of food SRMs in AOAC fat-protein-carbohydrate triangle

Start Date:

May 1, 1996

End Date:


Lead Organizational Unit:




Mary Bedner
Stephen E. Long
Elizabeth A. Mackey
Karen E. Murphy
Karen W. Phinney
Barbara J. Porter
Catherine A. Rimmer
Michele M. Schantz
Jeanice B. Thomas
Laura J. Wood
Rolf Zeisler


Lane C. Sander
Phone 301-975-3117

Katherine E. Sharpless
Phone 301-975-3121

Stephen A. Wise
Phone 301-975-3112