An expert panel was convened in September 2019 by The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) to develop a definition for fermented foods and to describe their role in the human diet. Although these foods have been consumed for thousands of years, they are receiving increased attention among biologists, nutritionists, technologists, clinicians and consumers. Despite this interest, inconsistencies related to the use of the term ‘fermented’ led the panel to define fermented foods and beverages as “foods made through desired microbial growth and enzymatic conversions of food components”. This definition, encompassing the many varieties of fermented foods, is intended to clarify what is (and is not) a fermented food. The distinction between fermented foods and probiotics is further clarified. The panel also addressed the current state of knowledge on the safety, risks and health benefits, including an assessment of the nutritional attributes and a mechanistic rationale for how fermented foods could improve gastrointestinal and general health. The latest advancements in our understanding of the microbial ecology and systems biology of these foods were discussed. Finally, the panel reviewed how fermented foods are regulated and discussed efforts to include them as a separate category in national dietary guidelines.