USDA's National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) was established to encourage the development and dissemination of independent academic research in U.S. institutions on the determinants and consequences of U.S. households’ food choices. The primary goal is to enable carefully conducted research to inform the general public and policymakers about critical and concurrent food policy issues facing the Nation.
Public-use and restricted-use data files are available for research and statistical purposes:
The public-use files include: the household-level and individual-level interview files, the food-at-home (FAH) and food-away-from-home (FAFH) event files, the FAH and FAFH item files, data from the Meals and Snacks form, and household access to FAFH outlets and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-authorized FAH retailers. All codebooks and a User's Guide, providing an overview of the survey and data sets as well as general notes about using the data, are available in the Documentation file on the Overview page).
For the public-use data files, USDA, ERS removed identifying variables from the restricted-use data files. Users can download the public-use data in three file formats: SAS, STATA, and CSV. If the public-use files are not sufficient for the researchers' needs, users may want to gain access to restricted-use data.
The process of applying for access to USDA, ERS data is evolving. The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 called for the Federal government to establish a standard application process (SAP) through which agencies, the Congressional Budget Office, State, local, and Tribal governments, researchers and other individuals, as appropriate, may apply for access to confidential microdata. In response, the Federal statistical system developed the SAP Portal at www.ResearchDataGov.org.
The SAP Portal is a web-based metadata catalog and application portal that serves as a “front door” to apply for confidential data from any of the 16 principal Federal statistical agencies and units for evidence building purposes. To learn more about the SAP, please visit the SAP Overview webpage.
The SAP Portal provides prospective applicants with a comprehensive metadata catalog for over 1,300 confidential data assets from the Federal statistical agencies and accepts applications requesting access to these assets. Users with questions about existing applications or arrangements for use of confidential data should contact USDA, ERS directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restricted-use FoodAPS data files are available on a secure data enclave and are accessible only for use on USDA, ERS approved projects. This page provides the following information about how to gain access to these data files and restrictions on data use:
- Data confidentiality and restricted availability
- Who can access FoodAPS data and how can this be done?
- Procedures for requesting access to FoodAPS data
- Review of proposed projects
- Amending an existing project agreement
- Review of analytic output
- Data access forms
Because FoodAPS data include confidential information, ERS has a legal obligation to provide access under a controlled environment to prevent accidental or willful disclosure of information that might identify a survey respondent. To develop rich and high-quality data, FoodAPS invoked the protections and regulations of the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) of 2002 to obtain confidential information. CIPSEA requires that the collected data be used strictly for research and statistical purposes and promises respondents high levels of data protection against disclosure of identifying information. Penalties for a violation of CIPSEA procedures can result in a fine of up to $250,000 and/or 5 years in prison. The restrictions and protections against disclosure of confidential information follow guidelines developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). See Implementation Guidance for Title V of the E-Government Act, Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA).
All researchers, including ERS staff, must be CIPSEA-trained and sign a pledge of confidentiality before being granted access to restricted data. Furthermore, all research results (graphs, summary statistics, presentations, papers, etc.) must be reviewed for disclosure risk and approved by the ERS Confidentiality Officer (or his/her designee) before the results can be shared with anyone who has not signed an ERS confidentiality agreement that specifically relates to the FoodAPS data. The review and approval process for disclosure risk is based solely on preventing the release of confidential information and ensuring compliance with the project's research plan. See Review of analytic output for more information.
The CIPSEA protection also stipulates the agency’s right to conduct inspections of off-site facilities where data access is allowed. The organization agrees to allow ERS officials to carry out unannounced physical and IT security inspections of the organization’s workplace. ERS workplace security checklist will be completed at the time of inspections.
In defining disclosure risk, ERS will adhere to the guidelines and recommendations presented in OMB’s Statistical Policy Working Paper 22: Report on Statistical Disclosure Limitation Methodology.
To access the data, ERS has established an efficient and secure data enclave that meets the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and CIPSEA security requirements, where access to external users is provided only through secure channels. For more information about accessing the data enclave remotely, see step 6 in Procedures for requesting access to FoodAPS data. Users will cover the cost of accessing the data with their own funds.
Minimizing the risk of disclosure
Five established procedures minimize the risk of disclosure:
- The remote terminals used to access the secure data enclave and manipulate data within the enclave are not capable of any other functions. Researchers cannot download materials from the enclave, and must agree to use the terminals properly in secure locations.
- Different sets of FoodAPS data and relevant extant proprietary data are stored in separate computer directories, and each directory has its own access restrictions. When researchers start a FoodAPS project, they are granted access only to the directories that contain data needed for their authorized research project.
- The staff of the secure data enclave can monitor or audit researchers’ current or past use of data while in the enclave.
- When researchers are ready to remove draft results, output, and other materials from the data enclave’s secure environment, those materials must be submitted to enclave staff for disclosure risk review. Data enclave staff will review the materials for possible disclosure risk. If the risk is deemed small but acceptable, the data enclave staff notifies ERS, and the ERS Confidentiality Officer or his/her designee will conduct a second review. The ERS review also verifies that the requested output meets all other stipulations of the approved Project Agreement. Only after both the data enclave staff and ERS have determined that the material requested for export does not risk disclosure of confidential information, is permission granted for the researcher to remove the materials from the enclave.
- As specified in their approved Project Agreements, researchers agree to submit all drafts, final reports, or other materials to ERS for disclosure review and approval before circulating those materials to anybody without a signed Confidentiality Agreement covering use of the FoodAPS data. The analytical conclusions of reports and outputs that are cleared for release are within the purview of the project research team and the accredited institution, and not ERS. Further details are provided under the section, "DISSEMINATION AND DISCLOSURE REVIEW OF INFORMATION" in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and/or the Project Agreement.
FoodAPS Extant Proprietary Data
FoodAPS information relies extensively on extant proprietary data to identify detailed descriptions of reported food items (as well as to define respondents’ local food environments), including the characteristics of specific grocery stores and restaurants in the local areas, along with prices of available foods in the stores. All approved researchers will have access to general food item descriptions and aggregate measures of the food environment. Access to disaggregated (raw) proprietary data sources, such as item- and store-level descriptions and sales information in local food environments, is limited to researchers collaborating on USDA-sponsored projects. USDA-sponsored projects include USDA grants, USDA cooperative agreements, and direct collaboration with ERS researchers. If a sponsored research project requires access to a specific proprietary data source in FoodAPS, the institution with which the research collaborator is affiliated must enter into a Third-Party Agreement (TPA) with the data provider.
If access to a proprietary data source is required for a research project, users need to fill out the appropriate TPA form and send the completed form(s) to David Dudgeon:
- USDA Third-Party Agreement for Nielsen and TDLinx data
- USDA Third-Party Access Agreement for IRI data
Restricted FoodAPS data are available only to approved researchers. To gain approval, a research proposal (using a Project Agreement form) must be submitted for review and approved by the FoodAPS Research Advisory Committee. The committee will approve proposals only from qualified researchers who are conducting academic research and affiliated with accredited colleges and universities in the United States, other non-profit U.S. organizations that conduct research, or research groups in U.S. Government organizations. To be approved, proposals must:
- Define the explicit economic hypotheses and questions to be addressed.
- Demonstrate the relevance of the proposed research to the broad purposes for which FoodAPS data were developed.
- Establish the merits and contributions of the proposed research to the academic literature and to the specific information needs of policymakers.
- Explain the research methodology, including plans to account for FoodAPS’s complex sample design to make inferences.
- Describe how the analytic results will be presented—including planned table shells, charts, and figures, as well as planned peer-reviewed publications.
- Specify which groups of data elements are needed.
The research proposal must be submitted as part of the ERS Project Agreement.
The following six steps are required before access to restricted FoodAPS data in the secure data enclave will be approved:
Step 2. Complete an ERS MOU (Memo of Understanding) between ERS and your organization.
Step 3. Complete the USDA CIPSEA training course available below (required of all project members seeking access to the secure data enclave).
Step 5. Complete a confidentiality agreement between the user and the secure data enclave and establish an account (user fees apply).
Step 6. Complete access training from the secure data enclave.
Each step is described in greater detail below:
For each distinct research project, a Project Agreement form that describes the proposed research to be conducted must be submitted to ERS for approval.
The review process is designed to:
- Ensure that the project has a defined research question that addresses a purpose for which FoodAPS data were collected and for which the FoodAPS data are appropriate (see Background).
- Determine what restricted data elements are needed to complete the project. Note: All FoodAPS data maintained at the secure data enclave are CIPSEA-protected and restricted. The data elements vary, however, in terms of their degree of confidentiality and likelihood of posing a disclosure risk. ERS has therefore organized the FoodAPS data into seven groups. Permissions to access the data will be group-specific based on the data needs identified in the Project Agreement.
- Assess disclosure risk based on requested restricted variables and the types of analyses and outputs proposed.
- Determine the required software and potential need for external data sets. Note: Many different software packages are available within the data enclave to approved researchers. If a needed package is not currently available, ERS will notify the research team. The research team may then contact the data enclave staff to determine if the package may be uploaded to the enclave.
Within the Project Summary section of the Project Agreement form, the following information should be provided:
- An abstract of no more than 250 words that describes the proposed research. The project titles, principal investigators, and abstracts of approved projects will be posted on the ERS website (see Research Projects and Publications);
- A description of the research question(s) to be investigated, the statistical technique(s) to be used, and the software to be used;
- A list of data elements needed for the planned analysis;
- A description of any household or individual subgroups (e.g., households with children or all school-age children) that will be a focus of the research;
- Plans for using sample weights and procedures that will be used to account for the complex sample design used for FoodAPS data;
- Table shells and charts that show how research results are expected to be presented;
- Plans for preventing the accidental disclosure of confidential information beyond the confines of the approved project members;
- A schedule for data analysis, draft of research results, and submission of research papers or reports;
- Names and curricula vitae or resumes of all project members who will need direct access to the restricted data; and
- Names and curricula vitae or resumes of all other project members, including advisors and consultants.
Complete an ERS Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ERS and your organization (e.g., university, non-profit, government agency), which grants access to FoodAPS data exclusively for statistical purposes under a pledge of confidentiality. The MOU defines the parameters that guarantee confidentiality and privacy and protects the intellectual property of the data owners. The MOU defines the scope and process of ERS reviews and serves to explicitly include the researcher’s organization as a party to the overall agreement between ERS and the researcher.
The term of the MOU is 5 years. The term may be extended by submitting an Extension of MOU Request. If project members are from multiple organizations, separate MOUs must be completed with each organization if the members plan to have direct access to the secure data enclave. The MOU(s) and Project Agreement should be submitted simultaneously to USDA, ERS for final review and signature. Copies of the fully signed paperwork will be returned to the researcher, completing the proposal approval process. If access to proprietary data is planned, the researcher must also enter into a separate Third-Party Agreement (TPA) with each proprietor before access to their data will be authorized.
Successfully complete the USDA CIPSEA training course and CIPSEA Review. This legal requirement applies to all research team members who will access the data, develop or review interim tables and charts displaying research results, or draft written material based on analysis of FoodAPS data. CIPSEA training must be renewed annually.
Once the CIPSEA training has been successfully completed, each team member must sign the ERS Confidentiality Agreement form. Again, this rule applies to all team members who will access the data, develop or review interim tables and charts displaying research results, or draft written material based on analysis of FoodAPS data. Send a copy of the signed confidentiality agreement to David Dudgeon. The confidentiality agreement must be renewed annually.
Once the MOU, Project Agreement, and confidentiality agreements have been signed, access to the approved data groups within the restricted-use FoodAPS data may be obtained via the secure data enclave.
Access to the data enclave requires two signed documents that establish a confidentiality agreement between the user and the data enclave. Fees are associated with using the secure data enclave. To learn more about the fee structure, contact David Dudgeon.
Researchers with approved project agreements are required to participate in a short online training course to learn how to access and manipulate data within the enclave, to learn about the processes involved in importing and exporting files, and to learn the rules involved in the statistical disclosure review process.
A site visit by the ERS Security Officer or designee may be required for offsite access to the data enclave. The site visit includes the elements listed in the ERS workplace security checklist.
ERS proposal reviews typically take about 2 weeks. If not completed within this timeframe, ERS will provide an updated timeframe to the research team. ERS will examine each proposal for:
- Consistency of the specified research question(s) with CIPSEA-defined statistical use of FoodAPS data;
- Technical feasibility—will the proposed statistical approaches and requested data elements support analysis of the research questions?
- Demonstrated knowledge of how to incorporate the FoodAPS complex sample design when estimating sample characteristics; and
- Disclosure risk during the project and of all proposed statistical output and reports.
Proposals that FoodAPS data cannot adequately support will not be approved. For example, a proposal to use FoodAPS data to estimate outcomes for a single State will not be approved because the FoodAPS sample was not designed to provide results that may be generalized at the State level.
Approval will be given only to those proposals that provide suitable protection against disclosure of confidential information about FoodAPS respondents, the establishments the respondents visited, and the food items acquired. For example, planned research output will not be approved that identifies establishment locations or names, product manufacturers, or name brands. Proposals should address how data and research results will be protected during analysis and report preparation. To help assure ERS that disclosure risk will be fully considered and addressed, careful forethought should be given to the following when preparing a proposal:
- The specific data elements needed for the proposed research;
- The approximate sample sizes of subgroups of interest. Note: Sample sizes of some household and individual subgroups may be determined through review of FoodAPS research findings published on the ERS website. If during its review, ERS determines that sample sizes of target populations are inadequate to support the planned analyses, the Project Leader of the proposed project will be informed; and
- The way that research results will be presented in tables, charts, and figures.
The proposal should include a detailed description of output planned to be exported from the data enclave. This section helps ERS assess disclosure risk. Include detailed examples of table shells, models, and/or graphs. Please indicate the subsample or unit of analysis used in each type of table, model, or graph. Also indicate plans for presenting results—such as planned presentations at professional/scientific meetings or to funding organizations, working papers and reports, and publications in peer-reviewed journals.
After review of the proposed project, ERS will decide to either approve the project as is, request a revision and resubmission, or disapprove.
- Approval of an application does not mean that USDA endorses the merit of the proposed research or its substantive, methodological, theoretical, or policy relevance.
- USDA approval reflects the judgment that the research described in the proposal is an appropriate use of the requested data; that is, the characteristics of FoodAPS data match the proposed research questions.
- Approval of a proposal does not explicitly or implicitly guarantee that all proposed output generated by the analysis will be approved for release.
Revise and resubmit:
- If ERS needs additional information during its review of a proposal, the research team will be asked to provide that information through a revised proposal.
- The research team should highlight any changes and indicate the date of revision when resubmitting a proposal.
- ERS will provide a written explanation of the reasons that a proposed project was not approved. If a proposal is disapproved, the research team may revise it and resubmit as a new proposal.
If, during the course of analysis, a research team decides to make changes to the research approved in its Project Agreement, the original Project Agreement may need to be amended. Such an amendment will give ERS an up-to-date agreement for reference when research materials are submitted for review. In addition, ERS does not want researchers to spend time on analyses that could later create a disclosure risk and thereby not be publishable.
In general, if the research team wishes to make any change that affects the Project Agreement’s approved focal research objective/questions, statistical method, table shells, charts, or figures—the team should notify ERS via an e-mail message with "PROPOSED CHANGE TO AGREEMENT" in the subject line. The message should explain the proposed change and any expected changes to analytic output that would be submitted for review.
ERS will review the proposed change and, if the research focus changes or if disclosure risk is increased, ERS will ask the research team to submit a formal request to amend the agreement. The requested amendment will be fully reviewed, using the same criteria as in the initial proposal review. ERS will expedite this review.
Proposed changes that are directly related to the approved research questions and pose no additional disclosure risk will not need a formal amendment to the Project Agreement, but will be maintained on file to assist in ERS’s review of project output(s).
If ERS decides that the original Project Agreement needs amending, the team must submit a Request for Amended Project Agreement that includes:
- The name and number of the original approved Project Agreement and the date of the request for an amendment;
- A summary of the requested change(s).
To add new project participants, the team will need to submit an Amendment for New Collaborator(s) and include all contact information for the new participant.
The review process should take 1 to 2 weeks. Amendments related to staffing changes or additional variables of similar sensitivity to those variables already approved should take less time to review. Amendments requesting access to data from groups of variables other than the groups already approved may take more time.
Before any type of output—including tables, charts, graphs, slide presentations, draft reports, and final reports—can be downloaded from the secure data enclave, the output will be reviewed by both data enclave staff and ERS for both disclosure risk and adherence to outputs specified in the Project Agreement. This review requirement includes preliminary or interim results meant to be shared outside of the data enclave with CIPSEA-trained and approved colleagues on the research team.
If a review determines that disclosure risk is present, the research team will be notified and indicate which parts of the output pose disclosure risk. The research team and the ERS reviewer may then work together to reach agreement on output that would be approved for download from the data enclave. If there is a disagreement between the research team and the ERS reviewer as to whether any proposed output poses a disclosure risk, the research team may request a review by the ERS Confidentiality Officer. The Confidentiality Officer’s decision regarding disclosure risk will be final.
Please submit all forms to David Dudgeon on the FoodAPS team. The following forms are available for download:
- ERS memorandum of understanding (MOU)
- MOU extension template
- ERS project agreement
- Amended project agreement
- Amended project for new collaborator(s)
- ERS confidentiality agreement
- ERS workplace security checklist
- CIPSEA training
- CIPSEA review
- Third-Party Agreement (TPA) for Nielsen and TDLinx
- Third-Party Agreement (TPA) for The NPD Group
- Third-Party Access Agreement (TPA) for IRI data
- IRI Third-Party Access Agreement (TPA) Extension Request Form
- USDA IRI Project Agreement and NDA