The toxicological assessment of chemically complex food matrices (CCFM) usually is very time consuming, expensive and uses many animal studies. Improvements to obtain a more efficient assessment process remain limited as long as we retain traditional approaches to toxicological risk assessment. New concepts would be needed to achieve real innovations in risk assessment. The threshold of toxicological concern (TTC) potentially is such a concept that has existed for many years and recently has been further developed.The safety of CCFM is difficult to assess as there are numerous unknown substances present (often referred to as 'Forest-of-Peaks' in chromatographic analysis). Usually, for the evaluation of CCFM, a full safety assessment approach involving animal studies is needed, but the exposure to most substances is low and TTC might be applicable. However, to apply TTC efficiently to CCFM, a strategy is needed to deal with large numbers of unknowns (substances of which structural information is lacking). Therefore, we have drafted a framework for application of TTC in safety assessment of CCFM. This paper describes the criteria and development of the framework proposing a stepwise approach for the application of TTC in safety assessment of CCFM and future developments required. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.