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Our Food Open Data Challenge: Bringing Open Food Facts to the UK!

Par stephane • English • Thursday 04/12/2014 • 0 comments • Version imprimable

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We were delighted when we saw that Food was one of the themes of the Open Data Challenges series run by NESTA UK and the Open Data Institute. This was a really open event dedicated to Food and Open Data, which we believe is a very tasty - and very useful - combination.

Food open data challenge question

From the very moment that we became aware of the challenge, it was obvious that we had to take part in it! The Food Open Data Challenge was a perfect opportunity to make Open Food Facts really take off in the UK, and more importantly, it brought together many different people with very different ideas of how open data could make our food healthier, safer and more sustainable.

An open database of food products of many uses and re-uses

While it was important for challenge participants to use open data sources from the UK Government (from the Food Standards Agency, DEFRA etc.), we thought that our crowdsourced database of food products in open data could be a very good other source of data for many of the challenge participants.

In our post presenting the Food Open Data Challenge, we also presented our own challenge : bringing Open Food Facts to the UK and making UK startups and nonprofits related to food and nutrition aware of our database so that they could start using it.

Open Food Facts was selected for the first phase of the challenge, and we got a chance to pitch our project in front of many food startups and we were absolutely thrilled to see that one third of the other 14 selected projects mentioned Open Food Facts in their own pitches! :-)

In the last three months, we made a huge progress in the UK, here.

From 200 to 1,200 UK food products in 3 months!

A big enough database of UK food products was necessary to show the usefulness of having open data for food products. While we had 20,000 products in our database, in mid-august we had only 200 UK products. Clearly we had to improve that very quickly so that our data could be used in applications and services designed by the other challenge participants.

So we reached out to everyone we knew who lives in the UK, some of our French contributors added products from the M&S stores in Paris, and we took thousands of pictures of food products in UK stores so that we could open their data. The result is that 3 months later when the Food Open Data Creation Weekend started, we had 1,200 products, a 500% increase in just 3 months! Clearly we can't claim victory, but 1,200 products is already enough to create very interesting re-uses of the data and prototypes. Thanks a lot to all our contributors and friends who helped us achieve this! :-)

Integration of open data from the Food Standards Agency

Many food products have a code on their label that identifies the company that made the product. Those codes are European Approval Numbers, you can find them in an oval printed on the package, and for products made in the UK, EU approval numbers look like "UK 1234 EC".

Each European country publishes a list of those codes, unfortunately each country has a different format for those lists. In the UK, the FSA publishes lists of approved food premises. We have integrated those lists in Open Food Facts so that we can automatically show the manufacturer of each product.

Here is the list of all the UK approved food premises for which we have products in the Open Food Facts database.

For some manufacturers like dairies, we were also able to retrieve the FSA Hygiene Ratings from the FSA ratings API, and we now also show them.

FSA Hygiene Rating   

Made Near Me: a crowdsourced map of food products made and sold in the UK

Thanks to the EU approval numbers and the open data from the FSA, we can determine where products are made (or at least packaged). Putting food products on a map was the next obvious step, so in late October 2014, we launched Made Near Me UK!

Made Near Me UK

Made Near Me is a good example of what can be done when you mix different types of open data: crowdsourced food products data from Open Food Facts, public open data from the FSA, and OpenStreetMap!

How much sugar: a fun and educative game made with open data!

Food products data can be used in many different and interesting ways. For instance if you mix the sugar values from Open Food Facts with the gaming engine from Angry Birds, you get How Much Sugar!

How Much Sugar?

How Much Sugar presents how much sugar is in your food in a fun and educative manner.
And if you don't see your favorite product in the game yet, just add it to Open Food Facts: when new products are added, they appear in the game.

Open Data Awards 2014

Open Food Facts was one of the 3 finalists of the Innovation category for the first Open Data Awards and we were invited to the awards ceremony presented by Sirs Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt during the ODI Summit gala dinner on 4th November 2014.

Nicolas Baldeck (at the very left) from the Open Meteo project was also one of the finalists, and the winners included Wikidata and Irina Bolychevski for her work on CKAN: a clear sign that open data is not only the realm of governments and companies, but that individuals, community projects and non-profits also have very important roles to play!

The Food Open Data Challenge projects

Food Open Data Challenge creation week-end The Food Open Data Challenge generated a lot of interest: no less than 26 high quality projects were submited. (board and photo by @odchallenges)

15 projects participated to The Food Creation Weekend on Nov 14th and Nov 15th. The Open Food Facts team was represented by two of our  very active local contributors: Benoît from London and Vince from Liverpool, joined by Open Food Facts founder Stéphane from Paris.

Each team presented their project in front of the challenge judges and the other teams.

We were very happy that many teams mentioned Open Food Facts as one of their planned open data source in their pitches. It definitely shows that food products data is very useful and needs to be open!

Food creation week-end

(Photo of the food creation week-end by @KaterynaOn)

The winners

The winners of the Food Open Data Challenge are:
Congratulations to the winners and all other participants! Great projects and great pitches!

Our own Food Open Data Challenge: Bringing Open Food Facts to the UK!

While we were not selected as one of the 3 finalists of the NESTA and ODI Food Open Data Challenge, we certainly succeded in our own version of it: bringing Open Food Facts to the UK! :-)

Yes we scan!

We now have a big enough database of food products to at least effectively demonstrate the uses and benefits of having open data for food products, and to start creating interesting re-uses such as Made Near Me and How Much Sugar.

But it's just the beginning!

What's next?

We now have new challenges, and we will need your help to meet them!

Continue to grow the database of food products

1200 product is a good stard, but it is definitely not enough. For France we now have 20,000 products, how much time will it take to reach 20,000 products in the UK? Well it depends on you!

Develop a local community

We need to develop a strong community of contributors - and of reusers - in the UK. To install the Open Food Facts Android / iPhone / Windows Phone / FirefoxOS app, to scan products and to add them to the database of course, but also to re-use the data in interesting ways.

To create this community, we need people who can present Open Food Facts in front of as many different audiences as possible, from the most obvious ones to the most unlikely. In France we have accepted all invitations to present our project, and each time we have quickly connected to the people who attended our presentations. Food is a universal topic of interest that everyone relates to. Explaining how we can better understand labels and easily compare products always generates a lot of interest and enthusiasm.

So could you present Open Food Facts in the UK?

Here are some ideas of possible venues and audiences, but you will surely have other ones:
  •     Open Data meetups and events
  •     Free software / Open source meetups and events
  •     Food and nutrition events
  •     Schools

Would you like to contribute and/or to present Open Food Facts? Get in touch!

Work with producers

We use crowdsourcing a lot to grow the database, but food producers and manufacturers can also send us their data. Some of them already started doing so, and we will need to contact more of them so that we can get more data directly from its source.

If you are a producer and would like consumers to know more about your products, we can help to open your data. Get in touch!

Work with re-users

Food products data can be very useful for food startups, non-profits, government agencies, scientists, and individuals. We will need to engage with more of them to discuss what they could do with the data and how we could help them do it.

Are you one potential re-user? Get in touch!

Let's be open!

Let's be open: we need help to grow Open Food Facts in the UK. If you would like to take part in Open Food Facts, please get in touch!

Thank you!

Thanks a lot for all the organizers of the Food Open Data Challenge from NESTA and the ODI, in particular Amy, Briony, Ed and Remi, to the challenge mentors and judges, to our current (and future) contributors and supporters, to all the challenge participants! It was a pleasure to meet you, talk to you and work with you, and we hope we will do more of that in the future!

Open Food Facts

Open Food Facts

The community:

> Ideas Forum
Facebook page
> Contributors group on Facebook
@OpenFoodFacts on Twitter
> Instagram
Join the conversation

and of course on this blog !

The blog

This blog shares news concerning the Open Food Facts project. It's also of course a place for discussion where comments are very welcome!