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FEATURE: To What Extent is Nanotechnology Applied in Today's Global Food Industry?

Source: FLEXNEWS
16/11/2010

16 November 2010 - Will tomorrow's food be designed by shaping molecules and atoms? Of course, the use of nanotechnology in consumer products continues to grow rapidly, but at the same time nano food development still remains in its early stages with few products appearing on the global market.

It is expected that the applications for nanotechnology in the food industry will be a little bit slower due to narrow profit margins on food and food ingredients. Nevertheless, a large number of manufacturers are keeping an eye on the technology, either by conducting their own commissioned or in-house research, or by simply adopting a more ‘let’s wait and see’ policy.

In a June 2010 FLEXNEWS article “Nanoscience - A Pioneering Technology with Increased Applications Making Food Better and Less Expensive”, our journalists interviewed Dr. George Burdock of the Burdock Group, a consultant firm based in Orlando, Florida, to find out what the current state of affairs for food nanotechnology could be. Dr. Burdock answered various questions on nanoscience and provided his opinion on what the near future for nano food could look like.

FLEXNEWS spoke to two German experts in the field, who recently attended the Max Rubner ‘Nanotechnology in the Food Sector’ Conference 2010, held in Karlsruhe in early October. Both researchers presented their latest findings in terms of nanotechnology and food applications as well as reflected the consumer’s point of view.

Dr. Ralf Greiner is Head of the Department of Food Technology and Bioprocess Engineering at the Max Rubner-Instiut (MRI) and Chair of the Max Rubner Institute Working Group on Food Nanotechnology. He coordinates the nano-related research activities within MRI. The group aims to fill the gaps in knowledge focusing on potentials as well as risks of nanomaterials in the food sector. The research activities include effects of size reduction or encapsulation on bioavailability of bioactive compounds, migration of nanoparticles from food contact materials into food, detection and characterization methods for engineered nanomaterials in food and beverages, link between the use of nanosilver-containing food containers and the food’s shelf-life, effect of nanosilver on cells and microorganisms.

Dr. Gaby-Fleur Böl is natural scientist and Head of the Department Risk Communication at the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR). The BfR’s work focuses on ensuring that food, substances and products become safer and that the health of consumers is protected, via a scientific, research-driven approach. She coordinates various research assessments and communication of risks impacting consumer health protection whilst making scientific findings transparent and put across in a comprehensible manner in order to promote the rational handling of risks. In terms of nanotechnology, her team conducts research projects on risk perception, early risk detection and risk impact assessment by using representative surveys, consumer conferences, Delphi surveys and focus groups. Within its ‘Food Safety and Product Safety’ departments, the BfR carries out research and performs risk assessments on the exposition of consumers with nanoparticles by analyzing their cellular migration, resorption, bioavailability, accumulation and physiological excretion.

Given that the worldwide nanotechnology food market, in some estimates, has been valued at USD 20.4 billion in 2010, and that about 50% of the world’s largest food and beverage companies are or will be investing in nanotechnology research and development, FLEXNEWS shared with Drs. Greiner and Böl various concerns companies are having in relation to nanotechnology and its increasing applications in the food and food ingredient sectors.

[FLEXNEWS] Companies are worried about the public perception of nanotechnology. The general public’s knowledge of the science can range from little to none. At the same time, the general public (the end consumer) is provided with the occasional “warning” that nanotechnology could be beyond our control. These come under the form of movies or novels. For instance, Michael Crichton’s “Prey”, a techno-thriller published in 2002, serves as a cautionary tale about developments in nanotechnology. Although entertaining, it points towards nanotechnology scientists as being "bad guys". One can argue to some extent that this more or less reflects public perception of nanotechnology. According to you, what is the public perception of food nanotechnology in 2010? Are we far from acceptance?

[Ralf Greiner] According to inquiries, public perception of nanotechnology within the European Union is, in general positive. The majority of the consumers are of the opinion that the benefits of nanotechnology outweigh the risks. However it should be mentioned, that their knowledge about nanotechnology and its application is still low.

In addition, people very seldom link nanotechnology with food. Applications they are aware of are, for example, antibacterial textiles, transparent sunscreens, stain-, water- and odour-repellent fabrics, scratch-free paints for cars, dirt-repellent coatings, self-cleaning windows. And those applications are in general supported. The use of nanotechnology in the food sector, however, is described as a sensitive area. The majority of the consumers refuse to accept application in the food sector. The degree of rejection is thereby dependent on the particular application.

Generally spoken, applications in food contact materials such as packaging are more easily accepted than applications where nanomaterial is directly added to foods. In my opinion, a prerequisite for public acceptance are products with a real benefit for the consumer and the option of free choice.

[Gaby-Fleur Böl]According to a representative BfR survey, nanotechnology is currently perceived as a good thing by consumers. However, consumers adopt a far more critical attitude towards the use of nanotechnology in food and food contact articles. Every time a new technology is explored, the public is also afraid of possible negative implications.

In terms of nanotechnology, consumers have high expectations especially regarding its application in medicine. But also products of daily life are of interest, e. g. textiles with new functions, cosmetics or food. As media reports mirror public perception the BfR analysed 1.696 articles from nine German newspapers (Financial Times Deutschland, FAZ, Frankfurter Rundschau, Süddeutsche Zeitung, taz, Welt, Zeit, Focus, Spiegel) for the years 2000 up to 2007. With an average of 2 articles about nanotechnology per newspaper per month nanotechnology is not a subject of great controversy in the media in Germany at present. Hence, it has a more positive image. The media tend to focus on the beneficial aspects in daily products like cleaning products or medical applications.

Also the BfR representative survey on public perceptions about nanotechnology revealed that the majority of the 1,000 respondents were of the opinion that the benefits of nanotechnology outweigh the risks (66%). They, therefore, had a good or very good feeling about this technology (77%). Whereas the use of nanotechnology in the food sector is described as a sensitive area, support in the area of textiles, paints and varnishes was high (86%).

[FLEXNEWS] Given that the general public seems to think that the benefits of nanotechnology outweigh the risks without knowing a lot on the subject, wwhat do you think can be done to educate people about the benefits nanotechnology in food? Especially given that some food producers are worried that nanotechnology in the food sector will suffer from the "negative" image that GMOs generally have in some markets. Do you think the media has a role to play here?

[Ralf Greiner] In my opinion, research and aims of using nanotechnology in the food sector need to be made as transparent as possible. Openness and transparency are key. Both are necessary in raising awareness about the potential of the technology. It is important that all stakeholders inform about the benefits of nanotechnology and its application, but it is equally important to inform about the gaps in knowledge especially in respect to the behavior of nanomaterials within the human body.

The public needs to have a chance to accompany the introduction of nanotechnology in the food sector from the early beginning. Concerns and fears of the consumers must be taken seriously. In my opinion an open debate about the chances and potential risk of the use of nanomaterials in the food sector might be the only strategy to avoid a similar development as with GMO.

[Gaby-Fleur Böl] I would tend to say that educating people about benefits seems not to be the right idea. One should rather develop and offer nano products, which are safe and have clear benefits in comparison to conventional product. If the public is willing to accept these new products, they will be on the market. Good examples in the area of cosmetics are sun screens comprising titan dioxide in a nanoscale version, which reflect the sun more efficiently. The BfR internet analysis of the years 2001 up to 2008 with altogether 501 contributions from online fora and weblogs clearly showed that consumers, who are active in internet fora, judge nanoproducts mainly from the angle of their potential benefits. Here, nanoproducts in the field of medicine, textiles and automobiles are highly accepted, whereas products which are not yet ready for the market, e. g. in the area of foods, are seen rather doubtfully.

However, to avoid the mistakes made in the GMO debate it is important to transparently communicate nanotechnology to the public and to facilitate not only the development of new products but also risk research on this topic. Around 90% of all the information one gets every day is delivered by the media, therefore the media have a great impact on the consumer’s risk perception.

[FLEXNEWS] After talking to food manufacturers in Europe, North America and elsewhere, FLEXNEWS managed to put together a short list of statements reflecting their shared concerns about food nanotechnology. The following concerns were expressed by food manufacturers either involved or not involved in nanotechnology. What can you say to these companies?

-"We are reluctant to engage in food nanotechnology because we fear European consumer backlash".

[Gaby-Fleur Böl] It is up to you to build trust and to offer nano products, which have clear advantages in comparison to conventional products. The overall feeling of the public regarding nanotechnology is good and we should altogether make use of that atmosphere.

[Ralf Greiner]With this practice you will miss the chance to exploit the benefits of the use of nanomaterials in the food sector. Nothing was learnt from the GMO debate. It is a repetition of the same mistakes and in no way appropriate to counter consumer fears or to increase public acceptance. Similar to GMOs, this practice will result in the same “negative” image of nanomaterials.

-"We are engaged in food nanotechnology research but the development of an innovative nanotech-derived food product could take many years, and therefore it would be premature for us to communicate anything beforehand to the outside world and risk jeopardizing the launch of our product".

[Ralf Greiner] With this strategy you might get your product launched, but due to the negative press when launching the product and the missing public acceptance, your product is very likely to fail on the market. It is a mistake to perform food nanotechnology research secretly. Communicate your activities as open as possible.

[Gaby-Fleur Böl] Building trust is not a question of communicating business secrets and exact formulations, but of being transparent to the public.

-"With the exception of the luxury goods category, the food industry must produce in high quantity production and at low costs. Nanotechnology is an expensive field to work in. Besides it involves cooperation projects with external partners".

[Ralf Greiner] This statement is by far too general. In every new development you need to invest first, but I disagree that nanotechnology is too expensive and that these techniques may only be used for luxury goods. Some of the nanotechnology applications might be even help save money on the long term, such as a better bioavailability of bioactive compounds (you need to add less of the bioactive compound to achieve the same positive health effects) or lighter packaging materials (safes money during for example transport of the goods) etc. In addition, consumers are willing to pay more for a particular product if there is a real benefit to them.

[Gaby-Fleur Böl] Nanotechnology is able to deliver new products which might have strong advantages e. g. in energy balance. Therefore it is worthwhile to spend some effort in developing this new technology.

[FLEXNEWS] Dr Böl, according to you, are companies involved in food nanotechnology research carrying out enough surveys among their customers?

[Gaby-Fleur Böl]The BfR is not aware of such surveys done by the industry. It is, of course, important to ask the consumers about their acceptance. All food, which is on the market, has to be safe independent of being nanoscalic or not. For the public, it would be helpful to make use of a product register where the products and their ingredients are listed.

Currently consumers are not able to tell whether products contain nanomaterials or not. There is no mandatory labelling. Consumers can, therefore, only determine their presence when manufacturers use advertising claims referring to the use of nanotechnology. However, solely on the basis of the advertising claims for a product it is not yet possible to make any statements about whether that product actually contains nanoparticles or other nanomaterials.

[FLEXNEWS] Dr Greiner, it has been reported that more than 1,000 consumer products (not just food) in the world are made from nanotechnology. What are your estimates? How widespread is this technology in commercial applications in the food industry?

[Ralf Greiner] In my opinion the number of nano-products available is considerably lower. The products listed as nano-products are not proven to contain engineered nanomaterials, but the term “nano” appears or appeared in the product description. The term “nano” was sometimes used to indicate only very small. And, due to the fact that in some areas, such as self-cleaning windows or scratch-resistant surfaces, consumers are willing to accept and buy the products.

In the food sector, only nanotechnology-derived materials for food packaging to improve mechanical and barrier properties and some delivery systems for biologically active compounds are available in some countries. Virtually all known applications of nanotechnology in food and food packaging are currently outside the European Union, mainly in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, China and Israel. There has been a reservation on the EU market up to now.

[FLEXNEWS] Dr Böl, at the Max Rubner Conference, you argued that only few nanotech-food products are available on the European market so far. What are these products?

[Gaby-Fleur Böl]Nanomaterials are already used in several products in daily life. One area being: consumer products like fridges, packaging films or cutlery, which are food contact materials. So far there is no clear evidence of the addition of inorganic nanoparticles to foods.

Silicium dioxide is used as trickle aid for salt and spices but occurs only in a nanoscale version for some milliseconds during the product process. It has been authorised for 30 years. It is also possible to buy nano dietary supplements by the internet. However, in the area of foods more product research is done on nano outside instead of nano inside. For example specific nano films can be used to keep food fresh for longer, to indicate if temperature is constant, or to protect food from light or oxygene.

[FLEXNEWS] Dr Greiner, to your knowledge, have any companies succeeded in producing food additives by nanotechnology processes? Do these types of additives exist in large quantities yet?

[Ralf Greiner]There is a variety of nano-sized food ingredients, supplements and additives currently available. Virtually all of these products claim enhanced absorption and bioavailability of the nano-sized ingredients in the body. BASF produces for example a synthetic form of the tomato carotenoid lycopene, which has a particle size in the range of 100 nm, for addition to soft drinks and other food products. The addition of water-dispersible lycopene to drinks is not only claimed for certain health benefits, but also provides colour.

Furthermore, several nano-based mineral supplements are available. The nano-selenium-enriched Nanotea from Shenzhen Become Industry & Trade Co. Ltd. of China claims to improve selenium uptake by one order of magnitude and Nano Calcium/Magnesium, Nano Ionic Zinc, and Liquid Nano Particle Size Potassium from Mag-I-Cal.com, of the US as well as the SunActive® Fe delivery system from Taiyo, Japan both claim to provide health benefits by enhancing mineral uptake and bioavailability.

[FLEXNEWS] It seems that nano outside applications (food contact materials) are being developed faster than nano inside applications. Are we right in thinking that?


[Gaby-Fleur Böl] Market estimates for future applications suggest that nanotechnology-derived food packaging materials will make up the largest portion of the overall nano food market. Experts are of the opinion that nanotechnology derived packaging including food packaging will make up to 20% of nanotechnology products and applications in the global consumer goods industry by 2015.

[Ralf Greiner] I agree with Dr Böl. A whole range of food contact materials is already developed or is currently under development. Coatings containing nanoparticles are used to create antimicrobial, scratch-resistant, anti-reflective or corrosion-resistant surfaces. Examples of food contact materials with nano-coatings include kitchen and tableware, equipment used in food processing and food packaging systems. In addition, nanotechnology offers advantages in packaging and storage of food and beverages by increasing the barrier properties of packaging systems for moisture, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, and by improving their mechanical and heat-resistance properties.

[FLEXNEWS] Dr Greiner, can you provide me with some commercial product examples for the following nano outside and nano inside technologies?: Novel food structures (nano-emulsions), Food supplements (minerals), Food processing (nano-filters), Food analysis (nano-sensors), and Food contact materials (packaging).

[Ralf Greiner] To give a list of commercialised products is very difficult. The examples I will use are based on information collected mainly from the producers and distributors. Due to the rapidly changing nature of the market, some products may have disappeared from the market.

-Novel food structures (nano-emulsions)

To my knowledge no such product is on the market at the moment. A fat-reduced mayonnaise was reported to be on the market in The Netherlands. This product contains a double emulsion. So the first emulsion might fall under the definition of nanomaterials, but the droplets of the double emulsion are significantly bigger than 100 nm.

-Food supplements (minerals)

A variety of health-food and nutraceutical products based on nano-carrier technology are available worldwide. Such products claim to enhance absorption and bioavailability in the body.

The German company Aquanova® has developed a nanomicelle-based carrier system called NovaSOL® Sustain with a diameter of around 30 nm as a new approach to intelligent weight management. Two active substances are encapsulated in one single nano-carrier, coenzyme Q1O to address fat reduction and alpha-lipoic acid for satiety. The NovaSOL® technology has also been used to incorporate food additives, such as benzoic acid, citric acid, ascorbic acid, dietary supplements and functional food ingredients, such as vitamins A and E, soybean isoflavones, ß-carotene, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids into the micelles. About application in food and beverage products no information is available.

Moreover, the delivery system of the company NutraLease Ltd. from Israel is based on “Nano-sized Self-assembled Liquid Structures (NSSL)” technology (NutraLease). The particles are hollow spheres made from fats with a diameter of approximately 30 nm. These self-assembled nano-drops are added to the food product and serve as a liquid carrier which allows the entrapped mostly hydrophobic compounds to pass through the stomach effectively without sinking or breaking up. In addition, the NutraLeaseTM particles allow these compounds to enter the bloodstream from the gut more easily. The technology has already been adopted and marketed by Shemen Industries to deliver Canola Activa oil containing phytosterols, which it claims reduces cholesterol uptake by 14%, by competing for bile solubilisation (NutraLease). In addition, lycopene, ß-carotene, lutein, coenzyme Q10 and omega-3 fatty acids have been incorporated into these carriers.

In addition to NovaSOL® from Aquanova® and NutraLeaseTM from NutraLease Ltd., the NanoClusterTM delivery system for food products from Royal BodyCare Life Sciences® Inc. (USA) and BioralTM nanocholeate nutrient delivery system for micronutrients and antioxidants are commercially available. The NanoClusterTM delivery system is used in a powdered chocolate drink, called Slim Shake chocolate, which is claimed to be sufficiently sweet without added sugar or sweeteners by incorporating cocoa into nanoclusters (RBC Life Sciences).

I also just mentioned BASF’s synthetic form of the tomato carotenoid lycopene, Shenzhen Become’s nano-selenium-enriched Nanotea and Taiyo’s SunActive®-Fe delivery system.

- Food processing (nano-filters)

The global market for nanofiltration membranes increased from USD 89.1 million in 2006 to an estimated USD 97.5 million by the end of 2007 and it should reach USD 310.5 million by 2012. The water treatment sector was projected to account for 72.7% of total revenues in 2007. Besides in water treatment for drinking water production, the main applications of nanofiltration in food production are in the dairy and sugar industry. Around 300,000 m2 of nanofiltration membranes are assumed to be currently applied in the food industry.

- Food analysis (nano-sensors)

To our knowledge there is a hydrogen sulphide indicator for food packaging that might be on the market in Finland (Raflatac® Pro Label, UPM Raflatac, Finland)

- Food contact materials (packaging)

LANXESS of Germany developed a nanoclay-polyamide composite film named Durethan® KU 2-2601 with reduced gas and moisture permeation as well as enhanced gloss and stiffness. A further nanocomposite containing clay nanoparticles, named Imperm®, was developed by Nanocor® Inc. (USA). This material could be used in multi-layer PET bottles for beverages to minimise the loss of carbon dioxide from the drinks and the ingress of oxygen into the bottles, thus keeping beverages fresher and extending shelf-life. In addition, the resultant bottles are both lighter and stronger than glass and are less likely to shatter.

Miller Brewing Co. (USA) is reported to use this technology in their beer bottles giving their beer up to a six-month shelf-life. Honeywell Specialty Polymers (USA) has also successfully developed a polymerized nanocomposite film, named Aegis® OX. Aegis® OX is an oxygen-scavenging barrier resin formulated for use in co-injection PET bottle applications. The resins are a blend of active and passive nylon using oxygen scavengers and passive nanocomposite clay particles to enhance the barrier properties for retaining carbon dioxide and keeping oxygen out. This technology has been used since late 2003 in the 2.6-litre Hite Pitcher beer bottle from Hite Brewery Co. (South Korea) and results in an extended shelf-life of the beer of up to 26 weeks.

In addition to the above mentioned products, the following five nanocomposite barrier products are currently reported to be commercially available: NycoNanoTM (Nycoa, USA), NanoblendTM (PolyOne, USA), NanomideTM (Nanopolymer Composites Corporation, Taiwan), Systemer (Showa Denko, Japan), Ecobesta® (Ube Industries Ltd., Japan). All these products are nanoclay-polyamide 6 composites.

Beside nanocomposite barrier products, food packaging with antimicrobial properties, so called “active” packaging, are currently available. These materials are claimed to preserve the food products by inhibiting the growth of microorganisms.

Examples include nano-silver food storage containers (Sharper Image®, USA; A-DO Global, China; BlueMoonGoods, USA; Everin, United Kingdom; JR Nanotech Plc., United Kingdom) and nano-silver plastic bags (Sharper Image®, USA; OneWorld, United Kingdom). In addition, nanoparticles of magnesium oxide and zinc oxide have been determined to be highly effective in destroying microorganisms. SongSing Nanotechnology Co. Ltd. (Taiwan), for example, produces a film (Nano Plastic Wrap) containing a nano-zinc oxide based light catalyst, claimed to sterilise in indoor lighting.

The antimicrobial properties of silver nanoparticles, for example, have been used by incorporation into the inner surface of domestic refrigerators (Daewoo, South Korea; Hitachi, Japan; LG Electronics, South Korea; Samsung, South Korea), the surface of cutting boards (A-DO Global, South Korea; Küchenprofi, Germany), baby milk bottles and drinking cups (Baby Dream® Co. Ltd., South Korea), tea pots (SongSing Nanotechnology Co. Ltd., Taiwan), and kitchen and tableware from Nano Care Technology Ltd. (China).

Currently, the US based OilFresh Corporation has marketed a new nano-ceramic product as a catalytic anti-oxidant device for use in restaurant deep-frying machines. Unlike other products that simply filter out unwanted oxidation products, the OilFresh nano-ceramic device prevents the oxidation and agglomeration of fats in deep fat fryers due to its large surface area, thus extending the useful life span of the oil and allowing restaurants the flexibility of switching to more healthful vegetable oils. Furthermore, oil use in restaurants and fast food shops could be reduced by half. An additional benefit is that oil heats up more quickly, reducing the energy required for cooking. Furthermore, Nano-X (Germany) has developed a black inorganic nanocomposite coating material which greatly improves heat-conducting properties of the cookware, reducing cooking time by up to 30%. This black coating material seems to be currently used to modify the surface of aluminum foil and frying pans.

[FLEXNEWS] The main food safety setback for nanotechnology seems to be the issue of toxicity. Dr Böl, in your presentation given in Karlsruhe, you argued that a more methodological approach must be adopted to assess the toxic potential of nano materials. Can you provide us with more details?

[Gaby-Fleur Böl] Due to their size nanoparticles have different properties than larger particles of the same substance. This makes them interesting for various areas of use. They can exhibit altered chemical, physical and biological properties and a higher intracellular reactivity with subcellular structures like proteins or DNA. In order to estimate whether nanoproducts constitute specific health risks, it is important to know whether the nanoparticles used in the product are firmly embedded or can be released from the product.

Free nanoparticles are more likely to lead to a health risk than firmly embedded ones. There are three ways to come into contact with nanomaterials: orally, inhalative, or dermally. A BfR-Delphi survey and actual studies show that the inhalative way is the most direct one. Physiological cellular protection systems help to cope with those particles one is eating or comes into contact with the skin.

Each new product has to be assessed specifically for possible risks. Therefore, it should be tested in vitro and in vivo if the substance reacts in another way as known before. The BfR has come to the conclusion that the toxicological data available on the assessment of nanomaterials and the data on exposure assessment are currently not sufficient to undertake a risk assessment of the use of nanomaterials in foods. Regarding the use of nanomaterials as food additives and in food-contact articles, BfR points out that already authorised substances intended for use in the nano range should also be reviewed prior to their use.

[FLEXNEWS] Dr. Böl, a lot is being said about the useof silver in food supplements and the risks that go with that. However, you point out that, although silver is perceived as risky, it has a low toxic potential. You argue the same for titan dioxide for the coating of food. Can you explain?

[Gaby-Fleur Böl] The main reason for advising against nano silver in consumer products is the possibility of inducing resistance, e. g. against antibiotics. It is not a question of its toxic potential. Using silver in consumer products should offer clear advantages in comparison to conventional hygiene.

Titan dioxide, meanwhile, is used as hygiene coating for solid interior and exterior surfaces because of its antimicrobial properties. In food it has been used for several years as a white stain with the E-number E171. As a food coating nano titan dioxide should provide a barrier to moisture and gas exchange to preserve the appearance of the products even after the packaging has been opened. If a specific risk assessment comes to the conclusion that nano titan dioxide is as safe as the conventional sized products then it can be used as coating for food. However, this has not been done so far. Like silver, it is not a question of the toxicity of the chemical substance itself, but of its possible intracellular reactivity after incorporation. This has to be clarified by analytical measurements and specific assessments.

[FLEXNEWS] Indeed. Earlier this year, the European Parliament said foods produced by nanotechnology processes must remain excluded from the Community list until they have undergone specific and adequate risk assessments, and until the possible health effects of materials at nano scale are better understood. Will this issue concerning novel foods in the EU limit the development of nanotechnology in the European food sector? To your knowledge, what progress has been made in terms of risk assessments?

[Gaby-Fleur Böl]These new rules will help to make the nano process more transparent and safe. Therefore, it will be easier to sell nano products if consumers can be sure that they are safe. Risk assessment is on the way but not enough has been done so far regarding nanotechnology in food. The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) bases its assessment of the application area on the research strategy on the health and environmental risks of nanotechnologies developed together with the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) and the Federal Environmental Agency (UBA).

Furthermore, the bioavailability of food ingredients containing nano particles has to be examined as well as the possible migration of particles e. g. from packaging into food, their cellular metabolism and excretion and therefore the final exposition of humans. Regarding the use of nanotechnology in the area of food and food packaging, a novel food regulation is currently under revision and will also include food containing engineered nanomaterials.

[Ralf Greiner] It is difficult to predict, but a clear regulation of nano-scale materials might even accelerate the use nano-scale material in foods. A legally binding definition for nanomaterials is crucial. Without such a definition, it is impossible for the industry to implement nano-specific regulations. Regulatory uncertainties are therefore surely one factor contributing to the reluctance of the food industry to use nanomaterials. Agreement exists, that the accepted risk assessment procedures are also applicable for nanomaterials. However, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) pointed in their opinion on the potential risks arising from nanoscience and nanotechnologies on food and feed safety out that current guidance documents for the preparation of applications in the food and feed area do not addressing engineered nanomaterials.

As a follow up EFSA is currently preparing a guidance document on the risk assessment concerning potential risks arising from applications of nanoscience and nanotechnologies to food, feed and pesticides. Requirements for specialised safety assessments of engineered nanomaterials have been discussed over the last decade by inter-governmental organisations including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the European Commission (EC). Moreover, EU Member States have held international fora as well as funded research into the topic. Nevertheless, despite these considerable efforts, and continued research programmes, there is still debate as to what might constitute a rigorous science-based risk assessment process for engineered nanomaterials in food use.

[FLEXNEWS] Dr Greiner, according to your estimates, the global market for nanotechnology in food is valued at USD 20.4 billion for 2010. However, a recent British parliamentary report says that the global market for nanotechnology in food was USD 140 million in 2006 and is expected to balloon to USD 5.6 billion in 2012. Why is there such a difference in the estimations?

[Ralf Greiner] The difference in estimates reflects the difficulty in obtaining the exact information by the food industry about current and planned activities in food nanotechnology. Furthermore, the lacking of a binding and delimiting definition of nanotechnology generates uncertainties in the assignment of a process or material to nanotechnology. The estimates might be also so different, because sometimes only the value of the nanomaterial itself is indicated (e.g. nano-clay) and sometimes the value of the final product in which the nanomaterial is incorporated (packaging material).

[FLEXNEWS] Dr. Greiner, in addition to the regulatory obstacles and to the lack of transparence referred to by Dr Böl, what do you believe are the main scientific hurdles for the development of nanotechnology in the food industry? And what developments can we expect in food industry nanotechnology in the next 1-5 years?

[Ralf Greiner] The basic principles of nanotechnology application in food have been elucidated. However, in detail some problems appear. Size reduction techniques, which result often in broad particle size distribution, are rather expensive and the tiny particles need to be stabilized to avoid agglomeration. There is also a deeper understanding needed in respect to the interaction of nanomaterials with the different food matrices and to their behaviour in the gastro-intestinal tract.

The prospects for applications of nanotechnology to the food sector have become more apparent over the last few years. Nanotechnology applications are expected to bring changes to the food sector. Many of the world’s largest food companies are reported to support specific research programmes to explore the potential of nanotechnology for use in the food sector. However, I do not expect the market for nanotechnology-derived products for the food sector to grow as rapidly in the coming year as predicted. 

Research activities on applications of nanotechnology in the food sector already include development of improved taste, colour, flavour, texture and consistency of food products, increased absorption and bioavailability of nutrients and bioactive compounds, improved quality, shelf-life and safety of food products due to new food packaging materials with improved mechanical, barrier and antimicrobial properties, and nanosensors for traceability and monitoring the condition of food during transport and storage. 

Nanotechnology is expected to offer technological advantages in production, processing, storage, transportation, traceability, safety and security of food. However, nanotechnology-derived products need to demonstrate their economical competitiveness prior to commercialisation. 

Up to now, information concerning the economical competitiveness of nanotechnology-derived products is almost lacking. Food packaging makes up the largest share of the current and short-term predicted market for nanotechnology applications. In addition, several nanotechnology-derived food ingredients, additives and supplements as well as food contact materials are available in some countries. Furthermore, technologies applying nanoscale materials in filtering and clearing processes for products such as wine, beer and drinking water are being used. 

However, it is difficult to obtain information by the food industry about the current and short-term nanotechnology applications in their sector.



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