The need to represent knowledge about food is central to many human activities including agriculture, medicine, food safety inspection, shopping patterns, and sustainable development. FoodOn is a new ontology built to interoperate with the OBO Library and to represent entities which bear a “food role”. Initially the ontology is focused on categorization and processing of food for humans, but in the future it will also encompass materials in natural ecosystems and food webs. We aim to develop semantics for food safety, food security, the agricultural and animal husbandry practices linked to food production, culinary, nutritional and chemical ingredients and processes.

FoodOn works in partnership with other OBOFoundry related ontologies (see the Joint Food Ontology Workgroup) to provide vocabulary for nutrition, diet, and plant and animal agricultural rearing research. This diagram shows a DRAFT of the emerging FoodOn structure. The current published design can be found here.

The scope of FoodOn is ambitious and will require input from multiple domains. FoodOn imports material from several ontologies covering anatomy, taxonomy, geography and cultural heritage. We aim to create content to cover gaps in the representation of food-related products and processes. This ontology is being applied to research and clinical datasets in academia and government. We also welcome industry uptake since agricultural and consumer devices connected to the Internet of Things will require a standard food vocabulary that has a global, multilingual reach.

We have launched the ALPHA version of FoodOn, based largely on LanguaL, a descriptive food indexing system that has terms organized in facets that describe source ingredients, food preservation, cooking, consumer groups, etc. (a great presentation on LanguaL is here; its origins stretch back to the 1975 US FDA CFSAN Factored Food Vocabulary). Food can also be linked to its cultural or geographic origin, and to its animal, plant or fungi raw ingredient taxonomy. The ontology can be explored with an ontology lookup services:

Curators and implementers can read up on FoodOn’s design details, and its GitHub repository and issue/term request board.  Other discussion about design choices occurs in the FoodOn discussion group. Ways to incorporate portions of FoodOn into systems are described on the reuse page.

Image credits: centre photo © Roger A Smith (cc-by-sa/2.0)