Nanotechnology offers great potential for use in the food and drink supply chain, but the public’s food safety concerns still need to be overcome, according to the head of the Nanotechnology Industries Association (NIA).
Speaking at a seminar earlier this year, Dr Steffi Friedrichs, director general of the NIA, said nanotechnology offered many benefits in terms of reduced consumption of precious raw materials and resources such as water and fertilisers.
She also said nanotechnology had a good safety record. “In 15 years of scientists’ committees and toxicologists looking into that, they have not found a single effect that is induced by a nanomaterial that would not be induced by any other chemical we are not creating something that we didn’t create before, we are just making it smaller.”
However, she conceded the need to investigate the bioavailability of such small particles which, as they travel through the body, “might accumulate somewhere”.
Need more guidance
But she argued their toxicological effect would be no different from non-nanomaterials of the same composition. “What we do need to give toxicologists is more guidance on how to prepare their tests and assays with nanomaterials as opposed to soluble chemicals.”
On the positive side, nanotechnology could assist with energy reduction in manufacturing processes and transport, while also reducing the environmental impact of processes, said Friedrichs. Nanotechnology could even help to remove toxic substances that sometimes have to be used in industrial processes and to make better safety sensors for food monitoring, she added.
Nanotechnology was already being used to raise fuel efficiencies in transport fleets, she noted. And by using it in packaging, the shelf-life of foods could be extended, reducing waste.
Meanwhile, when used in membranes, it could help to filter dirty water to provide safer drinking water in the developing world.
“Nanotechnology, if anything, is one of those things where you can get away with using much, much less for a much enhanced effect.”
Friedrichs also spoke about its use in salt manufacture to enhance saltiness by increasing the surface area of salt particles. This has helped to reduce the amount consumed by up to 70%, with associated health benefits, she said. Such processes were developed by a company called Eminate, a spin-off from the University of Nottingham.
In May 2013, ingredients specialist Tate & Lyle signed a licence with Eminate to market this microsphere technology designed to reduce sodium bicarbonate in baked goods.
The agreement followed a deal signed between the two companies in 2011, giving Tate & Lyle exclusive rights to the Soda-Lo salt microsphere technology.