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Nanofood is defined as the nanotechnology tools used during the manufacturing of food cultivation, production, processing, and packaging. The word “nano” is derived from the Greek word that translates into “dwarf.” Nano-food particles are so minuscule that they are difficult to detect under common microscopes - a single nanometer is equivalent to one billionth of a meter. Due to the size of these tiny nanoparticles, they can vary in chemical reactivity, conductivity, solubility, and many more physical and chemical properties.
How Nanotechnology is Used
In the food industry, nanotechnology is primarily used for food contact materials, such as plastic containers that prevent disease-causing bacteria from growing and extending the shelf life of many food products. Nanoparticles are also included in certain foods to complement flavors and textures or eliminate the potency of some overbearing tastes and smells.
Other nanotechnology applications include nanocarrier systems for nutrient enrichment (as liposomes or bipolymer nano-encapsulated bodies), nanocoating on food contact surfaces, water decontamination, and animal feed purposes. Nanotechnology is also beginning to be used to target, and provide, bioactive compounds and micronutrients. The better control and release of nanomaterials with active food ingredients, in comparison to traditional agents in food processing, introduce more efficient and better properties for bioactive compounds protection, delivery control, food integration, and texture - they also eliminate or conceal those unwanted tastes and flavors. The nanomaterials that aid these processes are nano-emulsions, biopolymer complexes, micelles, and liposomes.
Nanotechnology is also a possible source to detect foodborne pathogens; it presents the option of alternative sensors to isolate and detect pathogens (e.g. E. coli). Some techniques nanotechnology can provide involve detection by luminescence and quantum dots, enhanced fluorescence, and localized surface plasmon resonance of metallic nanoparticles.
Nanofood and Food Safety
Nanoparticles are nothing new to the processing and consumption of the foods we eat. Nanoparticles are at a smaller scale compared to the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in our everyday food - the human diet has virtually always been exposed to these nano-sized particles. Although nanoparticles are naturally present in everyday food, there is a nutritional concern regarding synthetic nanoparticles and other nanomaterials that can possibly be a hazard to human food consumption.
Currently, there is not any maintainable proof that nanotechnology is more perilous than any other typical food alternative. Based on this lack of evidence, there is no final consensus about the safety of nanofood and food contact materials made from nanoparticles.
Despite the undetectable issues with nanotechnology, the EFSA, also known as the European Food Safety Authority, published guidance regarding nanoscience and nanotechnologies in food. The guidance addresses how to maintain the safety of nanoscience applications, as well as prioritizes the safety of human and animal health. In 2020, there is meant to be a second guidance that cornerstones the environmental risk assessment of nanotechnology and nanoscience, as well as its implementation in the food and animal feed chain.
The United States, Canada, Australia, Mainland China, New Zealand, and the European Union do not currently have any detailed legislation regarding the limitations of nanofood and nanoscience - they simply carry the same limitations of all foods.
Canadian and European governments have taken action to regulate the use of nanotechnology in food products; however, the United States has only managed to present guidelines to companies and manufacturers. Nanomaterials have already been implemented by the chemical industry as food contact substances and dietary supplements; these are things that can be found in the everyday-household, such as food storage containers, cutting boards, and plastic bags.
There is minimal research regarding the health effects of synthetic nanomaterials, but there is credited speculation surrounding its potential harm. While there is no tangible or detectable evidence showing that nanomaterials are hazardous, it does not mean that nanofoods pose no prospective risks to human health.
Sources and Further Reading