An open access database is needed

An open access database on information about barcoded products sold is needed
Prof. Marcel Salathé

Today we are excited to launch – an open access database on information about barcoded food products sold in Switzerland.

Is there a need for such a database? Absolutely. Today, there is no database on Swiss food products that is truly open, free, and – perhaps most importantly – programmatically accessible via an API. The latter point is particularly important as it allows for the creation of an ecosystem around open food data, one of the main goals of

What we are launching is only the first version of We make no claims on completeness of the data, but with over 14,000 products in the database, we are off to a good start. We hope to leverage the crowd to help us grow and maintain a high quality database. In the near future, we’ll expand the crowdsourcing functionality of the site substantially.

That said, we realize that there are many different sources of open data on food that exist in Switzerland. In an effort to bring these sources together, our next milestone are the open food data hackdays, which will take place on February 10 & 11, 2017, concurrently at EPFL in Lausanne and at the Zhdk in Zurich. More information about this event, and a registration form,can be found at

This is just the beginning of a long journey. On the one hand, we’d like to provide much more data on food products than what is currently on the label. For example, with DNA analysis getting cheaper by the day, it’s quite possible that we’ll soon be able to allow users to upload DNA sequence data of food products (see for inspiration).

On the other hand, it’s clear that a lot of food is consumed that doesn’t come with a barcode – think about the meals we eat in restaurants, for example. In this case, we’ll need another approach to capture the nutritional contents of food, such as estimating it from a picture. The team is working hard on this problem and will soon open a second API that is based not on barcodes, but on images (image recognition API). Rest assured that it will be open, too!



Marcel Salathé is a digital epidemiologist working at the interface of population biology, computational sciences, and the social sciences. He obtained his PhD at ETH Zurich and spent two years as a postdoc in Stanford before joining the faculty at Penn State in 2010 at the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. In 2014, he spent half a year at Stanford as visiting assistant professor. In the summer of 2015, Marcel became an Associate Professor at EPFL where he heads the Digital Epidemiology Lab at the new Campus Biotech. In 2016, he has also been appointed Academic Director of EPFL Extension School, whose mission is to provide high quality online education in digital technology.

He published numerous papers in the biological, medical, and computational fields, and wrote a book called “Nature, in Code”. He led the development of the MOOC “Epidemics – The Dynamics of Infectious Disease”, a popular large-scale online course and has just recently launched a new EPFL MOOC « Nature, in Code: Biology in JavaScript. » He’s the co-founder of PlantVillage, a knowledge exchange platform on crop diseases, and the founder of, an open food data API designed to foster an ecosystem of applications around food and nutrition data. He also founded CrowdAI, an open data challenge platform whose goal is to accelerate research on big data across multiple scientific domains. He is also Deputy Editor of PLOS Computational Biology, and Editor at EPJ Data Science.

Marcel has spent a few years in the tech industry as web application developer. He was part of the renowned Y Combinator startup accelerator’s class of Winter 2014.


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The calorie tax

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