The federation was founded in 1920 with the merger of three international organisations, representing bakers, brewers, and meat industry employees. Originally named the International Union of Food and Allied Workers' Associations (IUFAWA), it affiliates were all European until 1950, but it then rapidly expanded worldwide. By 1978, the federation was known as the IUF, and it had 2.1 million members.
During the 1980s, the IUF campaigned against Coca-Cola, which it believed was exploiting plantation workers. In 1994, it merged with the International Federation of Plantation, Agricultural and Allied Workers, and took its present name. From 1997, it began signing collective bargaining agreements with various multinational companies.
In 2017, the IUF was composed of 430 member organisations in 130 countries, representing more than 12 million workers.
The organization represents workers employed in agriculture, the preparation and manufacture of food and beverages, hotels, restaurants and catering services and in tobacco processing.
The international headquarters of IUF is located in Geneva, Switzerland. Within the organization, there are autonomous regional organizations for Africa, Asia/Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America.