Editorial Feature

Nanotechnology in the Monitoring of Microbial Food Safety

Agencies such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Standards Agency of the United Kingdom are responsible for ensuring that food safety and quality assurance is monitored at every stage in the food production process.

As one of the most significant aspects present for food authorities and industries today, the need for providing safe food is facing unprecedented challenges around the world. It is estimated that the worldwide toll of foodborne diseases is estimated at a frightening 600 million cases and 420,000 deaths each year1. Some of the most frequent pathogens linked with these foodborne illnesses include diarrheal agents such as norovirus and Campylobactor spp, as well other bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella enterica and Typhi, Listeria and Brucella2.

While several different preventative methods exist in order to minimize the risks associated with foodborne illnesses, these approaches have significant drawbacks that are not in compliance with the current consumer trend for greener and chemical free approaches.

Of these methods include physical techniques, such as afreezing, heat and refrigeration storage, filtration, drying and chemical methods, as well as radiation and other thermal procedures. While effective, these techniques are often associated with high-energy costs, an increased possibility of degradation, as well as serious occupational and health implications.

In response to these problems, food industries are constantly looking towards developing more efficient, sustainable and low cost methods in order to ensure that food products remain microbial-free.

Nanotechnology, a rising field of interest in almost every industry, has found over 276 different applications in agricultural, food and feed markets1. Of the most common applications for nanotechnology in food safety and quality measures are nano-encapsulated agrochemicals, food additives and supplements, and antimicrobial active food packaging agents1.

One of the most common applications of nanomaterials in food industry is through the uses of nanoscale silver. Silver, a historically used antimicrobial agent, is used in a variety of applications such as dental implants, catheters, and wound healing dressings.

By reducing the particle size of silver to the nanolevel, this material exhibits an increased efficiency in its ability to control bacterial growth, while also improving its biocompatibility in mammalian systems3. Applications of silver nanoparticles in food packaging has involved its embedding into biodegradable coatings that have successfully inactivated bacteria.

Its addition as an anchor through the assistance of certain amino groups to common surfaces, such as glass, have found successful inhibition in the form of biofilms, and its combination with graphene oxide on these surfaces have even been found to inhibit almost 100% of bacterial attachment1.

Similar chemicals manipulated at the nanolevel such as titanium oxide (TiO2), zinc oxide (ZnO), cerium oxide (CeO), and others, have been used as photocatalytic agents in order to create surface reactive oxygen species (ROS) capable of damaging organic matter, such as bacteria, from developing.

Natural antimicrobial extracts, such as nano-encapsulated cinnamaldehyde, thyme oil emulsified with soluble soybean polysaccharide, and mandarin oil nano-emulsions, have all found to be successful additions and alternatives to harsh chemicals for these surfaces as well1. Food packaging products have also found the use of selenium and cellulose particles to successfully inhibit the production of ROS that can arise and degrade food quality.

One of the newest nano-enabled techniques that have risen in the fight against microbial agents in food is known as engineered water nanostructures (EWNS). These highly charged and mobile agents contain ROS, allowing for their successful interaction and inactivation of microorganisms on surfaces.

By being applied to water through either electrospraying and/or ionization processes, EWNS have a highly targeted capability to deliver their antimicrobial potential to food-related microorganisms, reaching what has been measured as up to a 99.99% reduction in organismal presence1.

While there are clearly advantageous aspects found in the application of nanotechnology into food and safety measurements, there is still a pressing need for further investigation into the potential toxicity that can occur following nanoparticle exposure.

Further regulation of nanomaterial applications in the food industry must also be thoroughly explored by governments across the world in order to develop standards to avoid possible health risks to humans and the environment.  


  1. Eleftheriadou, Mary, Georgios Pyrgiotakis, and Philip Demokritou. "Nanotechnology to the Rescue: Using Nano-enabled Approaches in Microbiological Food Safety and Quality." Current Opinion in Biotechnology 44 (2017): 87-93. Web.
  2. "Key Foodborne Diseases and Hazards." World Health Organization. 2015. Web. https://www.who.int/.
  3. Kim, Jun Sung, Eunye Kuk, Kyeong Nam Yu, Jong-Ho Kim, Sung Jin Park, Hu Jang Lee, So Hyun Kim, Young Kyung Park, Yong Ho Park, Cheol-Yong Hwang, Yong-Kwon Kim, Yoon-Sik Lee, Dae Hong Jeong, and Myung-Haing Cho. "Antimicrobial Effects of Silver Nanoparticles." Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine 3.1 (2007): 95-101. Web.

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Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.


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