Diverse Nanoparticle Use in Food Technology

The application of nanotechnology to food ingredients is inexorably progressing from “potentiality” to reality.  The decreased cost of production of nanosized ingredients, when coupled with the increased cost of ingredients and downward pressure on prices at the retail level, is making the choice to use this new technology easier. But, are the regulators ready? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued its first report on nanotechnology in food in July of 2007 and recently issued a call for industry and academia to share research results as part of the Agency’s “2010 Research Project Categories.”[1] In terms of what the Agency expects to see as safety information, FDA has only stated that the use of nanomaterials in food will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for safety-in-use of each product. EFSA stated in 2009 that established international approaches to risk assessment can be applied to engineered nanomaterials, although the EU European Parliament Environment Committee voted on May 4, 2010 that food produced using nanotechnology should be excluded from the novel food list, and therefore from the EU market, until the possible health effects of nanoparticle production are fully assessed.[2]

While regulators seem to be caught in a loop of indecision, new potential food applications of nanotechnology are debuting. As an example, scientists in Switzerland recently published data indicating that newly designed iron and zinc nanoparticles could help decrease anemia and zinc deficiency, as current iron and zinc ingredients are either poorly absorbed, or adversely affect the taste or color of foods.[3] The newly devised iron nanoparticles were readily incorporated into a milk smoothie and fed to rats, and were readily absorbed into the body with no reported adverse effect. In addition to food fortification, nanocoatings on processing machinery could reduce residue buildup, reducing both the need for frequent machinery cleaning and the ability of microorganisms from adhering to surfaces.[4] Although concerns of the safety of nanoparticles still exist, technology is moving forward to incorporate them into the food industry to increase food nutrition and safety.


[1] http://www.fda.gov/ScienceResearch/SpecialTopics/Nanotechnology/ucm196697.htm (site accessed 16June10)

[2] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/public/story_page/067-74271-127-05-19-911-20100507STO74257-2010-07-05-2010/default_en.htm  (site accessed June 11, 2010)

[3] Miller, 2010. Food nanotechnology: New leverage against iron deficiency. Nature Nanotechnology 5: 318-319.

[4] http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/content/view/print/305830 (site accessed June 11, 2010.