Nanotechnology for food and other industries is receiving strong support in the Basque region of Spain, with cash being channelled to researchers through the EU Framework 7 research funding programme.
That’s according to Dr Yolanda de Miguel, research and development project manager working on nanostructured and eco-efficient materialsat Tecnalia Research & Innovation’s construction unit, sustainable development división.
The group is exploring a wide variety of pan industry studies, including nanotechnology, which de Miguel told FoodNavigator has broad applications for the food industry.
Some scientists are looking at ways of using nanotechnology to block cholesterol from entering the bloodstream. Others are looking at applying it to the area of food safety, using antimicrobial coatings for work surfaces.
Others are exploring its potential for use in packaging materials to extend product shelf life, for example. “It’s being explored in bettering packaging by increasing its oxygen-barrier properties," said Dr. de Miguel.
Major food brands such as Nestlé, Unilever, Kraft and Heinz were known to be investigating nanotechnology and the Basque research would help support such endeavours, she said.
One of her major areas of focus at present is developing nano-coatings for different types of surfaces, which would in a sense make them ‘self-cleaning’. The coatings use nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, which at that size become translucent and react with oxygen and water molecules in air to release high energy radicals, which destroy the cell wall of harmful microbes. “These hydroxyl radicals will also degrade organic material on the surface, which means that the surface stays clean for longer,” said de Miguel.
Coating nanoparticles of titanium dioxide onto a given surface can also make it hydrophilic, which means water can be used more easily to wash it, plus the surface does not show water droplets remaining on it as the droplets run easily off them.
“These properties mean that such coatings could be ideally suited for use in areas that need to be kept constantly free of organic dirt and germs, such as food preparation areas”, she said.
At the same time, the Basque Government (in the same way as the European Commission) is also funding research into the potential health, safety and environmental impact of these novel technologies. This was crucial in order to guarantee the ultimate safe commercialisation of these novel products, said de Miguel.