Report on the development of a Food Classification and Description System for exposure assessment and guidance on its implementation and use
The role of EFSA as a central repository for pan-European data from national food control and surveillance programs requires extensive harmonisation. A system for unique and universal identification of food items is essential to provide a common link to diverse information sources. A working group was appointed to develop a standardised food classification and description system with general applicability and a preliminary technical system specification. A system is proposed that 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. Several hierarchies are proposed according to the needs of the specific food safety domain. 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 below 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. 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. The entire system is code-based. Specific user-friendly software tools need to be developed with an intelligent search function for choosing between alternative terms. Implementation of the system should follow a tiered approach including an initial period for comments by future users, a pilot phase and a final refinement phase. Success of the system will require on-going support and will depend on active contributions from end-users and linking to legislative needs in the different food safety domains at European Union level.