Epidemiologic studies directly contribute data on risk (or benefit) in humans as the investigated species, and in the full food intake range normally encountered by humans. This paper starts with introducing the epidemiologic approach, followed by a discussion of perceived differences between toxicological and epidemiologic risk assessment. Areas of contribution of epidemiology to the risk assessment process are identified, and ideas for tailoring epidemiologic studies to the risk assessment procedures are suggested, dealing with data collection, analyses and reporting of both existing and new epidemiologic studies. The dietary habits and subsequent disease occurrence of over three million people are currently under observation worldwide in cohort studies, offering great potential for use in risk assessment. The use of biomarkers and data on genetic susceptibility are discussed. The paper describes a scheme to classify epidemiologic studies for use in risk assessment, and deals with combining evidence from multiple studies. Using a matrix approach, the potential contribution to each of the steps in the risk assessment process is evaluated for categories of food substances. The contribution to risk assessment of specific food substances depends on the quality of the exposure information. Strengths and weaknesses are summarized. It is concluded that epidemiology can contribute significantly to hazard identification, hazard characterisation and exposure assessment.