FoodOn: a harmonized food ontology to increase global food traceability, quality control and data integration

NPJ Sci Food. 2018 Dec 18:2:23. doi: 10.1038/s41538-018-0032-6. eCollection 2018.


The construction of high capacity data sharing networks to support increasing government and commercial data exchange has highlighted a key roadblock: the content of existing Internet-connected information remains siloed due to a multiplicity of local languages and data dictionaries. This lack of a digital lingua franca is obvious in the domain of human food as materials travel from their wild or farm origin, through processing and distribution chains, to consumers. Well defined, hierarchical vocabulary, connected with logical relationships-in other words, an ontology-is urgently needed to help tackle data harmonization problems that span the domains of food security, safety, quality, production, distribution, and consumer health and convenience. FoodOn ( is a consortium-driven project to build a comprehensive and easily accessible global farm-to-fork ontology about food, that accurately and consistently describes foods commonly known in cultures from around the world. FoodOn addresses food product terminology gaps and supports food traceability. Focusing on human and domesticated animal food description, FoodOn contains animal and plant food sources, food categories and products, and other facets like preservation processes, contact surfaces, and packaging. Much of FoodOn's vocabulary comes from transforming LanguaL, a mature and popular food indexing thesaurus, into a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) OWL Web Ontology Language-formatted vocabulary that provides system interoperability, quality control, and software-driven intelligence. FoodOn compliments other technologies facilitating food traceability, which is becoming critical in this age of increasing globalization of food networks.

Keywords: Agriculture; Diseases; Environmental economics; Plant sciences; Sustainability.