A Resource Powerhouse: How the RIFM Database keeps science moving forward


While New Jersey shelters in place and neighboring New York takes a PAUSE, the Research Institute for Fragrance Material’s scientists continue work from their homes, evaluating the safety of fragrance ingredients and carrying out related research. The RIFM Database makes this possible.

The RIFM Database is the most comprehensive, worldwide source of toxicology data, literature, and general information on fragrance and flavor raw materials. With upwards of 70,000 references that include more than 135,000 human health and environmental studies, the Database also houses several tools that are crucial to RIFM’s Fragrance Ingredient Safety Assessment and Research programs.

RIFM’s Director of Technical Information & Services, Christen Sachse-Vasquez, manages the RIFM Database operations and staff, in addition to IT functions and strategies.

Q: When did RIFM start compiling fragrance and flavor data electronically? What was the thinking back then?

The thinking has always been to collect, compile, and evaluate data on flavor and fragrance materials—though early on, everything was on paper, and in filing cabinets organized by material. Tom Stuart created the RIFM Database to help organize the information in an electronic format starting in 1983. A DEC-VAX version of the Database was made available to members in 1991 via direct dial-up. Many members still remember this!

Q: Where does RIFM get its data? How is it managed?

The information that we summarize in the Database comes from a variety of sources: scientific journals, government inventories and studies, RIFM member company study reports, and RIFM-sponsored study reports. Our Database Team enters reference citation information, links studies to the appropriate materials, creates toxicological study summaries, and updates material records to conform with regulatory inventories and RIFM/Fragrance and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) statuses. None of this would be possible without our programmer, who makes all of these changes possible for the user interface.

Q: Many additional resources are housed in the RIFM Database, such as the recently released Genotoxicity Data Visualization Tool. Do these models pull data from the Database? How do they help support the safe use of fragrances?

The Toxicity Data Search Engine (TDSE) tool does pull data points directly from the RIFM Database, like Cramer Classes for structural alerts and exposure calculations from the Creme RIFM Aggregate Exposure Model, but also from external databases like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). RIFM’s Safety Assessment team of scientists use the TDSE to find data on materials for incorporation into evaluations rapidly. 

The other tools, like the RIFM skin absorption model (SAM) or the Genotoxicity Data Visualization Tool (GDVT), may contain specific data points from the RIFM Database but are stand-alone tools and are not dynamically connected with the RIFM Database. The GDVT can be used to screen materials for adverse functional groups and avoid unnecessary animal testing and is an excellent example of a project that started as a research program and is now a tool for RIFM members.

Q: You started with RIFM in 2000. What are some of the most significant features that have been added over the past 20 years?

I think the most significant upgrade was the full conversion of our Database web application to a more modern technology platform called Angular. As a web-development platform, it enables flexibility to incorporate powerful open-source JavaScript libraries and stay current with evolving technologies. It also supports integration with Cheminformatics tool sets. Because of this, we have been able to recently enhance our chemical structure searching feature and add a new interactive chemical cluster visualization for our members.

Some smaller updates with a significant impact include the classification of all 900+ Natural Complex Substances (NCS) into ISO categories based on the botanical source and processing method, automatic email reporting of updates to Database subscribers, and expanded search algorithms that incorporate a broader set of material and reference data.

Q: What impact will COVID-19 mandates on non-essential office work have on the RIFM Database and those who use it?

Luckily, like many companies, much of our work already occurs electronically. RIFM members share their study reports through file exchange sites like OneDrive, and many journals can be retrieved online. The RIFM Database runs on a web application where the staff works directly in the user interface. The Database server is onsite and can be accessed if there are any issues, and our VPN connects us securely to all files on our shared drives. So, while I hope to be back in the office with my colleagues sooner rather than later, we don’t see any challenges in providing the same service that we always have to those who rely on the RIFM Database to help ensure the safe use of fragrances.