Nanotechnology in Food

How is Nanotechnology being used in Food Science?

Nanotechnology is having an impact on several aspects of food science, from how food is grown to how it is packaged. Companies are developing nanomaterials that will make a difference not only in the taste of food, but also in food safety, and the health benefits that food delivers.

Food Science: Current Nanotechnology Applications

Clay nanocomposites are being used to provide an impermeable barrier to gasses such as oxygen or carbon dioxide in lightweight bottles, cartons and packaging films.

Storage bins are being produced with silver nanoparticles embedded in the plastic. The silver nanoparticles kill bacteria from any material that was previously stored in the bins, minimizing health risks from harmful bacteria.

Food Science: Nanotechnology Applications under Development

Researchers at the Technische Universität München have demonstrated a method of spraying carbon nanotubes onto flexible plastic surfaces to produce sensors. The researchers believe that this method could produce low cost sensors on surfaces such as the plastic film wrapping food, so that the sensor could detect spoiled food.

Researchers are using silicate nanoparticles to provide a barrier to gasses (for example oxygen), or moisture in a plastic film used for packaging. This could reduce the possibly of food spoiling or drying out.

Zinc oxide nanoparticles can be incorporated into plastic packaging to block UV rays and provide anti bacterial protection, while improving the strength and stability of the plastic film.

Nanosensors are being developed that can detect bacteria and other contaminates, such as salmonella, at a packaging plant. This will allow for frequent testing at a much lower cost than sending samples to a lab for analysis. This point-of-packaging testing, if conducted properly, has the potential to dramatically reduce the chance of contaminated food reaching grocery store shelves.

Research is also being conducted to develop nanocapsules containing nutrients that would be released when nanosensors detect a vitamin deficiency in your body. Basically this research could result in a super vitamin storage system in your body that delivers the nutrients you need, when you need them.

"Interactive" foods are being developed that would allow you to choose the desired flavor and color. Nanocapsules that contain flavor or color enhancers are embedded in the food; inert until a hungry consumer triggers them. The method hasn't been published, so it will be interesting to see how this particular trick is accomplished.

Researchers are also working on pesticides encapsulated in nanoparticles; that only release pesticide within an insect's stomach, minimizing the contamination of plants themselves.

Another development being persued is a network of nanosensors and dispensers used throughout a farm field. The sensors recognize when a plant needs nutrients or water, before there is any sign that the plant is deficient. The dispensers then release fertilizer, nutrients, or water as needed, optimizing the growth of each plant in the field one by one.

Food Science and Nanotechnology: Major Reports

Nanotechnology in Agriculture and Food Production (Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies)     

Nanotechnology in Agriculture and Food  (Nanoforum)

Nanotechnology in Food and Agriculture (Friends of the Earth)

Food Science: Nanotechnology Company Directory

Company Product
Nancor Bottles, cartons and films containing clay nanocomposite that act as a barrier to the passage of gasses or odors
Nano Science Diagnostics Rapid testing for contaminates in food
Inmat Nanocomposite coatings for transparent plastic films used in food packaging that provides a barrier to oxygen or moisture

Note that many other companies are researching the application of nanotechnology in the food industry but do not have nanotechnology sections on their websites.

Food Science and Nanotechnology: Organizations Exploring the Regulatory Impact

Regulatory Review report from UK Food Safety Authority

Nanotechnology Task Force formed by the United States Food and Drug Administration to address any knowledge or policy gaps related to the use of nanomaterials.  


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