Nanotechnology in Food Science: Food Safety, Food Packaging and Food Processing

Food Processing and Manufacturing

Christina Marantelou

Agriculturalist - Food Scientist, M.Sc. Nanobiotechnology

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Nanomaterial Applications in the Food Sector. Toxicological Assessment, Safety Issues, Regulatory Aspects, and Health Risks of NMs.

The food industry has a lot of potential for developing completely new products and processes thanks to the development of nanotechnology. Food additives (inside nanoparticles) and food packaging (outside nanomaterials) are two ways that nanotechnology can be used in the food sector (1). Nanocomposites are one of the most active areas of food packaging research in the field of food nanoscience (2). Figure 1 illustrates how nanotechnology is being used in the food industry.

nanotechnology in food science

Figure 1. Applications of nanotechnologies in the food sector (3)

  • Nanotechnology in Food Packaging/Preservation

Food preservation and protection from multiple threats, such as insects, bacteria, physical damage, and dirt, are two of the primary goals of packaging. They have to be simple to handle and distribute. Nanotechnology has the potential to enhance the mechanical barrier and the antimicrobial, which will prevent the entry of microorganisms in the food and increase the food barrier qualities (Figure 2). Consequently, it is an extremely promising material for food packaging.

nanotechnology in food science

Figure 2. Properties of nanomaterials (3)

The classification in food nanopackaging is shown in Figure 3. Some active packages extend the shelf life of the food by dispensing specific components, and other intelligent packages alert consumers to the product’s safety. On top of that, nanosensors in smart packaging are used for tracking the condition of containers and products. Additionally, there are probiotic-infused antimicrobial packaging, which are a relatively recent technique for biopreservation. The ideal characteristics for food packaging are listed in Table 1, along with the best nanomaterials for the intended purpose. Biodegradable plastic and its resources are recognised as a potent tool for reducing the effects of petroleum-based plastics on the environment (4). However, no biobased materials can match the performance of petroleum-based products. It is necessary to enhance the physical characteristics of biobased packing materials, such as their thermal stability, barrier qualities, and mechanical capabilities. It has been demonstrated that adding carbon nanotubes, nanoclays, and nanocellulose to bioplastics as a nanoreinforcement is an efficient and effective strategy to improve these qualities (5).
nanotechnology in food science

Figure 3. Classification of nanofood packaging (6)

 Table 1. Nanomaterials and their selection in brief

Desired propertyEffective NanomaterialRef
Elimination of enzymatic browningThiol-functionalized nanoparticles built from silicaBumbudsanpharoke et al., 2015
Antimicrobial propertySilver nanoparticles (AgNPs), ZnO nanostructures, titanium nanoparticles (TiO2 and tin)Bumbudsanpharoke et al., 2015
Moisture barrier ReinforcementNanoclaysBumbudsanpharoke et al., 2015
Qualities of reinforcement or fillingStarch nanocrystals

Cellulose nanostructures

SensorsCarbon nanotubesBumbudsanpharoke et al., 2015


These factors have led some of the leading packaging firms in the world to investigate and conduct research in order to determine the potential of polymer nanotechnology (7). Silver nanoparticles and nanoclay represent most of the nanoempowered food packaging available on the market others like zinc oxide and titanium share little of the current market (3).

  • Nanotechnology in Food Safety

Significant advancements in the field of food safety have been enabled by nanotechnology also. Food contamination processes have a significant demand for a fast, reliable, and sensitive detection technology (8). Nanosensors can play a critical role in ensuring food safety and protecting food quality along the supply chain. Nanosensors are able to identify pathogens, toxins, allergens, spoilage, and adulteration in food samples and provide consumers, producers, and regulators with immediate feedback. For instance, when food has been contaminated or has exceeded its expiration date, nanosensors built into smart packaging can change colour or send signals (Figure 3). Additionally, wearable sensors or handheld scanners that can scan food items and show information on a smartphone app can be built with nanosensors. A nanosensor that may identify airborne contaminants in the food supply chain was created by a professor at the University of California Riverside Bourns College of Engineering. A nanosensor array used in his research can identify minute concentrations of dangerous airborne chemicals. To detect airborne pollutants down to the parts per billion (ppb) level, it uses functionalized carbon nanotubes, which are 100,000 times finer than human hair. The device’s prototype included a computer chip, USB ports, and humidity and temperature sensors. The prototype’s second version was muted in order to incorporate a GPS unit, a Bluetooth unit to sync it with a smart phone, and Wi-Fi capabilities (9).

  • Nanotechnology in Food Processing / New Product Development

Nanotechnologies have significantly advanced the field of food processing. Given that food products must meet strict quality standards and that dietary needs are driving up demand for novel products like low-calorie and low-fat foods, nanomaterials in the food industry must improve the separation process (10). One of the most useful techniques based on nanotechnology, termed nanofiltration, has enormous potential for processing food. Examples of applications for nanoporous membranes include water filtration and softening (11). The dairy sector can use this nanotechnology in a variety of ways. The dairy industries use nanotechnologies to standardise milk, fractionate the proteins present in the milk, and improve the microbiological quality (12). When compared to the standard filtration procedure, this approach has a number of advantages. Less processing steps, less energy use, better end product quality, and higher separation efficiency are a few of them.

  • Related Health risks, safety concerns, and regulatory aspects

Due to subsequent transfer of particle nanomaterials from the packaging into the food as a result of poor packing performance, consuming foods that have come into touch with nanopackaging may present an exposure route and represent a serious health risk. This effect would be significantly affected by the ingestion rate of each particular food, packing matrix type, degree of migration, and toxicity of the utilised nanomaterial (13). Overconsumption, bioaccumulation, and increased activity of nano-based goods negatively impact health and present safety and health problems (13, 14). According to a number of studies, silver nanoparticles from packaging materials may contaminate food and be consumed by people (15).

Furthermore, a single oral intake of ZnO nanoparticles could cause issues like lung, kidney and liver harm (16). The use of titanium oxide and its final disposal can have an impact on both people and the environment, which raises the possibility of environmental and human health risks (17).

nanotechnology in food science

Understanding traceability and monitoring of the physical, chemical, and functional properties of nanoscale materials is complicated by the interaction between nanoscale materials and their environment (18). Knowledge specifically related to laws governing food applications of nanotechnologies has been compiled by Chaudhry et al., 2008 (19), Gergely et al., 2010 (20), Hodge et al., 2014 (21), Rasmussen et al., 2019 (22) and Schoonjans et al., 2023 (23). The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is responsible for assessing the risks associated with small particles, including nanoparticles, in goods used in the food supply chain in the EU. This process has been the subject of extensive scientific analysis for more than ten years. The guidelines for regulatory safety assessments and data requirements have been established as more experience has been acquired with evaluating novel foods, food contact materials, food/feed additives, and pesticides. Amenta et al. 2015 (24) and Rasmussen, Rauscher, Gottardo, et al., 2019 (22) provide a thorough analysis of the legal requirements for the use of nanotechnologies in food in the EU (and beyond). The newly updated Commission Recommendation of 10.06.2022 on the definition of nanomaterial (EU/C 229/01), which is not relevant in the context of food, and Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 on innovative foods, which offers a definition of engineered nanomaterial, are the key regulatory instruments in Europe. It has been clarified by the European Commission that the provisions of the Novel Food legislation extend to food additives, feed additives, and nutrient sources (EFSA Scientific Committee, 2021a) (25-28). Regulation (EU) No 10/2011 governs the use of chemicals in nanoform in plastic food contact materials (FCMs). Recent releases from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) include two directives. One describes the technical requirements to determine whether there are small particles present or whether the properties at the nanoscale persist while the product is being used, and the other describes the scientific risk assessment and appropriate safety testing of nanomaterials to ensure consumer protection (EFSA Scientific Committee, 2021a,b) (29-32).


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