The role of microbes in producing our food

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European Food Information Council (EUFIC), Brussels, Belgium


Microbes are microscopic organisms like bacteria, viruses, yeasts and other fungi. They occur everywhere and in lots of different shapes and forms across the whole food system. Communities of different microbes are essential in plant, animal and environmental health, with a consequent impact in terms of crop and livestock productivity, food quality and safety as well as for food waste decomposition and recycling processes. Understanding microbes’ contribution to the functioning of the foodchain (eco-)systems may harbour essential insight for the urgently needed change in how we produce, distribute and consume food as well as manage our resources to help address key societal challenges.


Microbes are everywhere in the food system with different roles:


  • As food itself (e.g. certain algae in marine ecosystems);
  • As food for animals that get consumed as part of the human diet (e.g. fish feeding on plankton in the ocean);
  • As part of foods humans consume, so contributing to human gut microbes which are linked to the human metabolic and immunological health (e.g. on raw produce or in fermented foods);
  • In environments that support soil, crop and livestock health and productivity;
  • In food production (e.g. in fermented produce); and 
  • In food waste decomposition and recycling processes.


In microbial communities and in balance with each other microbes are incredibly important in terms of the productivity and health of the food system through:


  • Keeping potentially harmful micro-organisms in check;
  • Producing metabolic waste products that are beneficial for the host environment (be it in soil, in and on plant tissues, animal or human ski ...
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