Nanotechnologies and Food
Nanotechnologies enable food ingredients to be managed at a molecular level. They are used to create novel foods and nutriceuticals. Nanotechnology may also be used in food packaging to ensure, for example, better protection of food or to detect how fresh it is.
However, to ensure consumer protection, specific properties and characteristics of nanomaterials need to be considered for any potential health risks, taking into account hazard assessment of nanotechnology products along the entire food chain (food, novel foods, food additives, food contact materials, feed, pesticides).
Detecting nanomaterials in food
It is claimed that nanotechnology products could have a substantial impact on the food and feed sector in the future, offering benefits for industry and for the consumer. Companies and institutes worldwide are currently researching and developing applications in fields such as the treatment of the mechanical and sensorial properties of food – where for example taste or texture can be changed – and improvements in nutritional value.
Concerning the wide range of products now benefiting from the inclusion of nanomaterials, it is important for monitoring and control purposes to have suitable methods available for detecting and quantifying nanoparticles, especially in relation to their concentration and their different types. The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) is in the process of developing methods to determine the chemical composition, morphology, particle size and concentration of nanomaterials used in food, consumer products in general and in the environment. This is envisaged to lead to standardised and internationally accepted analytical protocols. To facilitate this process, the Institute provides commercially relevant, selected test nanomaterials for European and worldwide studies.
Recent EU legislation on novel foods will make it obligatory for producers to label products containing ingredients in the form of nanomaterials. These labelling requirements are per se predicated on the existence of a clear definition of the term nanomaterial. The Institute has recently published a comprehensive review addressing the challenges and issues related to such a definition with particular reference to existing definitions used by various international and European bodies. Moreover it has highlighted shortcomings in the current definitions when applied in the regulatory context.
Since 2006 the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been following developments in nanotechnology within its remit, including reviewing the current state of knowledge and latest developments in nanotechnology with regard to food and feed. In March 2009 EFSA published a scientific opinion on nanoscience and nanotechnologies in relation to food and feed safety.
The Institute is working closely with EFSA to establish the behaviour of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in food and feed. It is developing and validating routine methods to detect, characterise and quantify ENMs in food contact materials, food and feed, whilst improving and validating test methodologies to assess toxicity of ENMs.