FSAI MenuCal - a Calorie Calculator for Restaurant Menus

Menucal allows restaurateurs to easily calculate the calories in their food.

Technology

Developed for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland by Dovetail Technologies, Menucal is implemented upon the Microsoft stack, using the ASP.Net serverside framework, SQL Server, and Windows Server.

The front-end utilises the responsive mobile-friendly Foundation front-end framework and is implemented using the MVC software pattern.

Search

The search facility provided by Menucal is crucial to its ease of use. Lucene.Net (a port of Apache Lucene) is used as a full-text search engine, which provides language stemming and spelling correction.  This is supplemented by a bespoke weighting algorithm, which counts how often specific ingredients are used and which promotes popular ingredients in search results.  Search accuracy will therefore continually improve with usage.

To further augment the search facility, FSAI has added contextual feedback on specific search terms. So, for example, if a user searches for “beef tomatoes”, the system will respond by informing the user that the variety of tomato is unimportant toward calorie calculation.  The system provides FSAI administrators with feedback mechanisms that will help them to continually tune these contextual messages - called “chef’s tips”.

Data sources

The base dataset interrogated by Menucal is McCance and Widdowson’s Composition of Foods integrated dataset. This dataset originated in 1940’s Britain as a scientific analysis of nutrition for wartime rationing.  The dataset has been revisited regularly since then and has been made available as Open Data under the UK’s Open Government Licence, meaning it can be used by anyone, anywhere for free.  Ireland is hosting the European Open Government Partnership Meeting in May, and as part of its measures to join this international initiative, Minister Brendan Howlin last October announced a major Irish commitment to Open Data, which should see similar availability of datasets here.

The CoF dataset was supplemented by calorie research by FSAI, data from the Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance Irish Food Composition Dataset (2011 Edition), data from the French Food Composition Dataset (ANSES) & the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Release 25). 

Ease of use

With ease of use in mind, instead of requiring input in grams or millilitres, the system allows the user to provide more natural portion sizes, such as one “large egg” or a “large fresh sprig” of thyme.  These portion sizes are sourced from the UK FSA Food Portion Sizes (3rd Edition, 2002) Crown Copyright 1998, IUNA Irish Food Portion Sizes database (Lyons 2013) and FSAI Average Food Portion Sizes (2013).

To calculate the absorption of fat, a “fat wizard” was built to implement new research conducted by FSAI. Here, the variation of calories in a food due to oil absorption is automatically applied to any recipe or food which is fried.

About Dovetail

The system was developed by Dovetail Technologies of Dublin.  Dovetail has been providing custom software solutions to Irish and international businesses since 2002.  Working with clients including IKEA, Aramark, LUAS and Inland Fisheries Ireland, Dovetail consistently delivers quality software solutions to owner-operated business, SMEs, multinationals and government bodies.

MenuCal featured on RTÉ National News 

This short clip from Ireland's national broadcaster, which was screened on April 9, 2014, announces the FSAI MenuCal calorie calculator.

 MenuCal calorie calculator featured on RTE National News

Screenshots from FSAI MenuCal calorie calculator
Screenshots from FSAI MenuCal calorie calculator
FSAI
FSAI

Client

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Technologies used

HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, jQuery, User experience design, Front end development, ASP.NET MVC, SQL Server, responsive design, Foundation

Next steps

We will continue to work with the FSAI to evolve the system as feedback is collected from the community, ensuring it remains relevant and up-to-date with the industry's needs.