EFSA Scientific Colloquium N°14: Food Classification: Unambiguous ambiguity – the challenge of describing food

23 June 2010

On 23 and 24 June 2010 some 90 scientists and stakeholders from 33 countries, including the USA and Australia, gathered in Parma to attend EFSA’s Scientific Colloquium on Food Classification: unambiguous ambiguity – the challenge of describing food in Parma.

The objective of EFSA’s 14th Colloquium was to bring together international experts from different sectors for an open scientific debate on the classification of foods and to provide suggestions for the Food Classification and Description System for exposure assessment under development in EFSA. The participants met in smaller groups to discuss minimum food description requirements for different end-users, EFSA’s working group proposal for a food classification system, challenges posed by composite foods, and the necessary detail of food consumption data for risk assessment purposes.

During the final plenary session, the scientists discussed the outcomes of the different discussion groups acknowledging that there are different food classification systems in use for different purposes. It cannot be expected that there will be any one classification system that will serve all different needs. In developing its classification system it will be important for EFSA to be clear on the objectives to make the system fit for purpose, and to work closely with the Member States to meet needs and ensure feasibility. It was emphasised that the EFSA development should be able to provide a central linking system that can act as a translational layer between current disparate systems to allow for accurate exposure calculations. This would include foods at raw agricultural commodity level (e.g. grains), at ingredient level (e.g. flour) and foods as consumed (e.g. bread) ideally connected by mapping rules and conversion factors.

Recurrent issues addressed in the discussion were the need for flexibility in the system to be able to meet future and unanticipated requests for risk assessment as well as innovation in food products, the importance for detail versus feasibility of the reporting, the need for the system to deal with composite foods, the challenge to meet needs in the different sectors stemming from different legislative backgrounds.

Participants welcomed the first outline of EFSA’s working group for a food classification system for risk assessment purposes. There was general support for the system to include a food list with the possibility of adding facets. The ideal length of the food list and number of facets will need to be determined and it will be important to consult with Member States and possible stakeholders. In building user-friendly coding software it will be advisable to build on useful experiences and existing systems. Finally, it was acknowledged that EFSA should foresee to update and maintain the system and provide clear guidance and possibly training.