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

Damion M. Dooley, Emma J. Griffiths, Gurinder S. Gosal, Pier L. Buttigieg, Robert Hoehndorf, Matthew C. Lange, Lynn M. Schriml, Fiona S. L. Brinkman, William W. L. Hsiao

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183 Scopus citations


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.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Journalnpj Science of Food
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 18 2018

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2020-10-01
Acknowledgements: The authors wish to acknowledge the curators of LanguaL, Dr. Jayne Ireland and Anders Møller, for helpful discussions and insightful comments on LanguaL and FoodOn. This work is primarily supported by Genome Canada BCB 2015 Grant #254EPI co-funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (BOP-149425) to W. Hsiao. Funding for authors on this work came from the following sources: P. Buttigieg was supported partially by FRAM, an HGF Infrastructure Program of the Alfred Wegener Institute, and by the ERC Advanced Investigator grant ABYSS 294757 to A. Boetius. D. Dooley and E. Griffiths were supported by the Genome Canada BCB 2015 Grant #254EPI. G. Gosal and E. Griffiths are supported by Genome BC Can-SHARE New Initiatives to W. Hsiao. In addition, E. Griffiths is partially supported through the AllerGen NCE to F. Brinkman.


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