New Zealand Total Diet Study

The New Zealand Total Diet Study is a nationwide survey of foods sold in New Zealand. The survey aims to assess New Zealanders' exposure to certain food safety risks.


Introduction to the study

Approximately every 5 years, MPI undertakes the New Zealand Total Diet Study (NZTDS). The NZTDS is a nationwide survey of foods available for sale and provides MPI with information on what is in the foods that New Zealanders eat.

The NZTDS surveys a range of common foods consumed in a typical diet to assess New Zealanders’ exposure to certain chemicals, such as agricultural compounds, contaminants, and nutrients. It is used to identify any potential food safety risks to New Zealanders, as well as to monitor changes to what we eat over time.

The most recent NZTDS was conducted in 2016. In the lead up to the study, MPI consulted on the proposed survey, including the foods and chemicals to be included in the study. Following consultation, MPI released a response to submissions and the final project outline, which provides an overview of the foods and analytes included in the 2016 study.

MPI aims to implement a best practice NZTDS that is consistent with previous surveys. The aim is to strengthen confidence – both domestically and overseas – in the safety of the New Zealand food supply and its monitoring systems.

The previous NZTDS was completed in 2009. Find out more about it by reading the final report:

Purpose and aims

The NZTDS aims to assess New Zealanders' exposure to certain agricultural compounds, contaminant elements, and nutrients from a range of foods consumed in a typical diet.

Globally, a Total Diet Study (TDS) is considered a critical tool to identify any food safety risks that might exist. The NZTDS is part of MPI’s monitoring and testing regime, which is focused on providing all consumers with the highest levels of assurance on and confidence in the integrity and safety of New Zealand food.

Information obtained from the NZTDS can inform the development and review of New Zealand food standards to ensure that food eaten by the average New Zealander continues to be safe.

Choosing foods to test

Usually only the most commonly consumed foods – for instance, foods that represent 90% of a population’s intake – are included in a TDS. This means about 130 foods (known as key foods) are purchased and tested, rather than the thousands of foods that other national nutrition surveys may identify.

Foods for the NZTDS are selected based on information from the most up to date New Zealand National Nutrition Surveys, which are undertaken by the Ministry of Health. The most recent National Children’s Nutrition Survey was completed in 2002, and the National Adult’s Nutrition Survey was conducted in 2008/09. Also included in the NZTDS are a small number of foods that are known to be high sources of contaminants.

For the 2016 NZTDS, the key foods to be tested included the most commonly eaten foods as identified in the 2008/09 National Adult’s Nutrition Survey. For packaged foods, recent sales data has been used to identify the most popular brands to include in the sampling plan.

Foods are also categorised as either

  • a national food, meaning that it can be bought anywhere in New Zealand
  • a regional food, meaning the composition of the food varies around the country.

To ensure variety, foods tested in the NZTDS are purchased from retail outlets such as supermarkets, greengrocers, butchers, fish shops, takeaways, or cafes. National foods are purchased in one city, while regional foods are purchased from 4 cities.

How food is tested

Food samples are purchased over a calendar year from a number of regions. Before being tested, they are prepared as they would be consumed (for example, bananas are peeled, meat is cooked). Each food is sampled twice over a calendar year to allow for seasonal variations. The sampling and analysis is managed in 4 testing periods, each lasting about 6 weeks.

Many of the analytes in the 2016 NZTDS were included in the previous studies, enabling trends to be monitored over time. Additional chemicals have been included, based on international scientific evidence. The full list of chemicals for the 2016 NZTDS is included in the final outline document.

Estimating our exposure

Data on levels of certain agricultural compounds, contaminants, and nutrients are combined with information on what people eat for different age-sex groups to give an estimate of dietary exposure to these chemicals. In particular, vulnerable groups (for example infants, children, and adolescents) and groups likely to consume the most food (for example young adult males) are considered a priority.

Using the key foods, 14-day simulated diets are developed for each of these groups in order to estimate dietary exposure to certain chemicals. The population groups for the 2016 NZTDS are included in the final outline document.

Once the level of exposure to chemicals for each of the age-sex groups has been estimated, these are compared with national/international health-based guidance and standards, such as the Acceptable Daily Intake. This information is used to identify the potential for adverse health effects associated with certain foods.

Reporting the results

Food sampling and testing for NZTDS is undertaken over a calendar year. Throughout that period, results of each sampling quarter are made public when available. MPI will respond to any unusual or unexpected results as appropriate. A final comprehensive analytical report including dietary exposure estimates and a full risk assessment for all specific population groups will be prepared, once all data from the 4 quarterly sampling periods has been consolidated.

2016 New Zealand Total Diet Study (Q1)

This report presents the results from the first quarterly sampling period (Q1) for the 2016 NZTDS. During this 6-week period, regional samples were purchased in Auckland, Napier, Christchurch, and Dunedin. None of the initial results collected in Q1 indicated a food safety risk.

2016 New Zealand Total Diet Study (Q2)

This report presents the results from the second quarterly sampling period (Q2) for the 2016 NZTDS. During this 6-week period, national samples were purchased in Christchurch. None of the initial results collected in Q2 indicated a food safety risk.

2016 New Zealand Total Diet Study (Q3)

This report presents the results from the third quarterly sampling period (Q3) for the 2016 NZTDS. During this 6-week period, regional samples were purchased in Auckland, Napier, Christchurch, and Dunedin.

2016 New Zealand Total Diet Study (Q4)

This report presents the results from the fourth quarterly sampling period (Q4) for the 2016 NZTDS. During this 6-week period, national samples were purchased in Christchurch. None of the initial results collected in Q4 indicated a food safety risk.

Further information

Find results and documents relating to previous NZ Total Diet Studies:

Find more information on MPI’s other food monitoring programmes:

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