Researchers at Iowa State are informing fairgoers about the nutritional content of the more than 150 foods offered at this year\'s state fair. Photo contributed by the Iowa State Fair.
Researchers at Iowa State are informing fairgoers about the nutritional content of the more than 150 foods offered at this year's state fair. Photo contributed by the Iowa State Fair.

Food Finder app updated for the 2013 Iowa State Fair

While the Iowa State Fair may not be known for healthful food options, researchers at Iowa State are updating the Food Finder application to make sure those who attend this year’s fair Aug. 8-18 can find nutritional information for their favorite fair treats.

Ruth Litchfield, an associate professor in food science and human nutrition, and Rose Martin, a senior lecturer, are updating the app to include eight new foods – shrimp corndogs, smoothie on a stick, bacon-wrapped riblet on a stick, fried brownie on a stick, soft-salted, chocolate-dipped almond pretzel on a stick, sweet corn corndog, rib shack cowboy, and a coconut mountain on a stick.

These new items are in addition to the almost 140 fair food items listed on the app first offered last year through a partnership with Iowa State and The Des Moines Register. The app has a variety of features aimed at keeping users informed:

  • Foods tab: provides nutritional analysis of food items and where to find each food on an interactive map
  • Vendors tab: lists all food vendors on an interactive map
  • Healthy fare tab: showcases the fair’s healthier food options and calculates physical activity required to work off that favorite fair indulgence
  • Events tab: lists all fair events, with a special section for health-focused activities

Updating this year’s foods list

To update the app with the new items, researchers began by determining the nutritional content of the new foods. The process was no easy task.

Martin, who spearheads the effort to evaluate the foods, said she was unable to get a hold of the vendors to find exact ingredients and portion sizes. So she and graduate assistant Jennifer Fath started with the data and information they had gathered from last year’s food analysis.state-fair-app

Preparing the app for last year’s fair involved innovative and creative methods to determine the nutritional content. This included examining photos of the items to get a better sense of portion size and ingredients, comparing foods with similar items at national chains, and watching videos of a local radio host Eddie Hatfield with KJJY, who does “behind the scenes” clips about the state fair food vendors.

Martin and Fath also spent a day in the kitchen, cooking test foods like corn dogs, weighing, taking pictures, and comparing it to the other information they had compiled.

Development of the app

Craig Johnson, a web developer at The Des Moines Register, originally developed the Food Finder to help users find their favorite treats in the sprawling fair complex.

At the same time Johnson was developing his app, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach put out a call for proposals for strategic initiatives to support Iowa’s Healthiest State Initiative.

Litchfield, a state nutrition extension specialist, submitted a proposal that highlighted fair foods – specifically the nutritional content and exercise a person would need to burn off certain fair foods.

“Identifying the amount of physical activity required to burn off the calories of favorite state fair foods is a unique and impactful feature of the app,” she said. “It really makes people consider whether the calories are really worth the amount of activity required.”

Litchfield teamed up with Johnson to create what is now the Food Finder app. Johnson said the contribution of Litchfield and her colleagues took his idea to the next level.

“There probably wouldn’t be an app without them,” Johnson said. “I was doing a simple web page.”

The app made its debut last year at the 2012 state fair and was downloaded 12,000 times and had almost 100,000 visitors to the website.

“It was successful last year, so everyone was pleased,” Martin said.

Martin said she hopes even more people will use the app this year. In addition to the app, which is currently only available for the iPhone, there is also a mobile website.


Ruth Litchfield, associate professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and state nutrition specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, 515-294-9484,

Rose Martin, senior lecturer, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, 515-294-9231,

Craig Johnson, web developer, The Des Moines Register, 515-284-8566,

Tara Lackey, graduate assistant, College of Human Sciences, 515-294-9424,

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