Food classification

The collection and evaluation of data on levels of chemical occurrence or presence of biological agents in food and feed are important tasks of EFSA. By combining the data with information on food consumption allows for detailed intake and exposure estimates crucial to any food and feed safety risk assessment or nutrient adequacy analysis. The EU Member States provide an increasing volume of data to EFSA and other European bodies. To provide a common link to all the diverse food and feed databases, a system for the unique and universal identification and characterisation of food and feed items is essential.

EFSA has developed a preliminary standardised food classification and description system called FoodEx2 (version 2 of the EFSA Food classification and description system for exposure assessment). The system consists of descriptions of a large number of individual food items aggregated into food groups and broader food categories in a hierarchical parent-child relationship. Following a review involving extensive feedback from national data providers in the EU Member States, the system was fine-tuned and updated in May 2015.

Central to the system is a common ‘core list’ of food items or generic food descriptions that represent the minimum level of detail needed for intake or exposure assessments. More detailed terms may exist in addition to the core list and these are identified as the ‘extended list’. A parent-child relationship exists between a core list food item and its related extended list food items. The terms of the core and extended list may be aggregated in different ways according to the needs of the different food safety domains. In the present version seven hierarchies are proposed: five domain-specific and a general purpose one available for the users, and a service hierarchy (master hierarchy) for the management of the terminology. Facets are used to add further detail to the information provided by the food list term. Facets are collections of additional terms describing properties and aspects of foods from various perspectives.

Due to the complexity of the system, user-friendly software tools will be required for its use. A pilot tool has been developed to help users navigate the system and to get familiar with the content. Some instructions for using this tool are available below.

EFSA welcomes comments and suggestions for improvement from Member States and other potential users of the system. For eventual issues with the application, please contact