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 Updated 2020-01-17

 The main entities of a food data collection  -  Food

It seems obvious that the Food entity is required and used to describe the foods in the food composition table, the food composition database and any food composition interchange package. The Food entity contains properties (metadata) that describe the foods reported in the table or database - often through the use of standard vocabularies or classifications.

Food Names

Typically, the Food entity will hold the food name in the local language - eventually also in English. For foods of plant or animal origin it is important to provide information about the scientific name of the plant or animal. The food name may also hold short information about its state of preparation, e.g. raw, boiled, fried, etc.
Food names are often regulated. It is therefore important that food names used in tables or databases are compliant with the local or regional regulations.
These issues are further explained in Food Names.

Food Identification

Food identification in the food composition context usually refers to a specific unique identifier - often called a food code - for each food in a food composition table or database.

From a maintenance and database aspect, it is preferable that this identifier is arbitrary with no specific meaning - in databases the unique food identifier is usually of the type called autonumber, a simple serial number.
As indicated, food identifiers should not contain any information but the code itself. It is a code that points to a specific food in a table or database. Including other information in the code such as food classification (see below) or preparation method often leads to problems when wanting to include a new classification or preparation method. At a certain point the chosen code format can no longer handle changes and a new set of codes need to be introduced.

Although there are examples of systems, where food classification and/or description is embedded in the food identifier, there are several reasons why the food identifier is not the right place to keep this kind of information. First of all, if there are small changes in the classification or description, the food code will change. Secondly, the code may become very long, if much information is embedded in the code. It is better to keep the food code/identifier clean, and keep the food classification/description in other places ("fields") in the table of database.

Food Classification

In food classifications, foods are ordered/gathered in classes or groups according to specific pre-defined criteria. Foods are classified into multiple categories to construct order in complex food environment, and the order is determining the final outcome of the food classification system. In the first approach, a variety of food classification systems has been developed. Some classifications have been formulated to describe food habits, while others fulfill requirements set by regulatory bodies. Classification systems are often standardized, as they may be based on legal documents, the most standardized being "vocabularies".

This means that food classifications are purpose-driven, created for a specific purpose and fit for use. A food classification system often cannot be used for another purpose than the one it was designed for and cannot be used for foods at all levels (foods as eaten, ingredients, commodities).

Food Description

Food description has a different purpose than food classification. Where the classification system tends to class/group foods with specific similar characteristics, the food description system is more oriented to describe foods as detailed as possible. Consistent indexing and retrieval can be attained using faceted thesauri (ISO, 1986), in which vocabulary control is achieved by deliberately restricting the scope of terms and through its display of hierarchical relationship. Due to its flexible structure, such a vocabulary can be amended by adding new viewpoints for food description or by including more details within facets. A faceted thesaurus is thus well adapted to describe the features of foods.

Food classifications versus Food Description

It is commonly useless to discuss what is best, food classifications or food description. Food classification and food description are created for different, specific purposes and  may have very different goals, and this leads to very different appearances of the systems. A classification system tends to group or aggregate foods with similar characteristics; it is a tool of the "end-user" of data. A description system, on the other hand, is a tool of the data originator, who wants to give a description of the food, as precisely as possible, without the necessity of aggregating them.


  • International Standard ISO 2788 (1986):
    Documentation- Guidelines for the establishment and development of monolingual thesauri.
  • International Standard ISO 5964 (1985):
    Documentation- Guidelines for the establishment and development of multilingual thesauri.
  • Burlingame B.A. (1998):
    Food Nomenclature and Terminology: Standards and Harmonisation for Food Composition Databases and Food Trade.
    16th International Congress of Nutrition, 1998.
  • Ireland J.D., Møller A. (2000):
    Review of International Food Classification and Description.
    Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, vol. 13, pp. 529-538, 2000.
  • Ireland, J.D. and Møller A. (2006):
    Review of Food Classification and Description Systems for Use in Food Composition Databases.
    EuroFIR Deliverable D1.6.6a. - 23 May 2006.
  • Wanda Polacchi:
    Standardized Food Terminology: An Essential Element for Preparing and Using Food Consumption Data on and International Basis.
    Food and Nutrition Bulletin, vol. 8, no. 2.
    The United Nations University, 1986.
  • Pennington J.A.T.:
    Food Classification and Terminology Systems.
    Keynote address at First International Food Data Base Conference.
    Proceedings of the First International Food Data Base Conference, , Sydney, Australia, 22–24 September 1993.
    AOAC International, 2nd ed., 2000.    
  • European Food Safety Authority (2011):
    Report on the development of a Food Classification and Description System for exposure assessment and guidance on its implementation and use.
    EFSA Journal 2011;9(12):2489
  • European Food Safety Authority:
    Food classification - FoodEx2.
    Website accessed 2014-05-08


First Albanian food composition tables (2022).

First Albanian food composition tables (2022) published with assistance from NPPC-VÚP in the frame of the Slovak Republic Official Development Support Programme.
Download here.
Swedish food composition database updated.

New version of the Swedish food composition database with updated nutritional values for several food groups and new foods and iodine values added. See the Swedish Food Agency's website.
First edition of the Kyrgyz Food Composition Table.

Kyrgyzstan has released their first national food composition table. For more information, see the EuroFIR website.
2021 Release of the New Zealand Food Composition Database.

The 2021 update of New Zealand food composition database (NZFCD) released online on 31st March 2022. For more information, see the EuroFIR website.