The use of nanocarrier systems as a way of stabilizing bioactive agents such that no changes, whether chemical or environmental, occur as well as enhancing the bioavailability of the bioactive materials is called food nanotechnology. The practice of food nanotechnology results in improved uptake and bioavailability of nutritional supplements and nutraceuticals.
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It is also possible to come up with new food antimicrobials and novel packaging materials that are able to improve shelf life. Food additives can also be encapsulated using nanoencapsulation.1 Clearly, food nanotechnology is an established field, and it keeps growing as new and improved uses of the technology keep emerging.2
This paper explores use of nanotechnology in food, with special focus on food packaging. The paper will also mention a number of companies that are currently using nanotechnology in food, before finally examining possible future advancements in food technology.
History of food nanotechnology
Chaudhry et al.3 indicate that nanotechnology in the food industry is quite new, with applications of nanotechnology in the food industry being mainly in food packaging. However, it is notable that there is rapid growth in the use of nanotechnology in the food sector, with coming years being very promising. The last five years have seen significant growth in application of nanotechnology in the food sector.
The US is leading in the use of nanotechnology in the food sector, with other countries like China and Japan following closely. It is important to acknowledge that the fear that enhanced foods could have risks has seen the food technology sector take up nanotechnology at a slow pace.4
Chemistry of food nanotechnology in itself
Figure: Polylactide-block-poly(ethylene glycol)-block-polylactide (PLA-PEG)
Linear formula: HO(CHCH3COO)x(CH2CH2O)y(COCHCH3O)zH
Biopolymeric nanoparticles for use in the food industry can be made using various processes. Polyactic acid (PLA) is actively used as an ingredient in manufacture of biodegradable nanoparticles for using in the food industry. A combination of PLA with polyethylene glycol (PEG) to form a PLA-PEG polymer is the most popular component of biodegradable polymers.
The stability of the nanoparticles is determined by the proportion of PLA to PEG use to make the nanoparticles, as well as the molecular weight (MW) of PLA. The presence of PEG in the copolymer makes the surface charge less negative, thus enhancing the interaction of the nanoparticles with food compounds in the process of coating the food or the food ingredients.
Non-toxicity of nanoparticles is one of the likeable properties of nanoparticles in food nanotechnology. Solvents required for processing nanoparticles should be non-reactive, or should not cause toxicity. In light of this, “salting out, spontaneous emulsification/diffusion, solvent evaporation, polymerization, and nanoprecipitation”5 are safe methods for making nanoparticles.
Nanoliposomes are used in the food industry to enhance efficacy of food additives, as well as cushion sensitive ingredients. Nanoliposomes are prepared by aggregating phospholipids to make an organized layer of vesicles. Energy is used to bombard the phospholipids.
Figure: Formation of liposomes and nanoliposomes from phospholipids
Source: Mozafari et al. (2008, p. 311)
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Chemistry of Food nanotechnology in food packaging
When developing nanomaterials for food packaging, consideration is given to avoid reactions occurring between the food or beverage and the packaging material. Moreover, the nanoparticles are supposed to enhance shelf life and food safety. Preference is given for nanoparticles that have antimicrobial activity for packaging purposes.
This makes zinc oxide and silver find use in coating packaging surfaces. Nanosensors are used in food packaging owing to their ability to send signals once they detect food contamination. Quantum dots and nanoliposomes are mainly used for this purpose. Nanocantilever detects biological bonds, thereby aiding in detection of pathogens in foods.6
Application of food nanotechnology in food itself
Use of nanobiosensors is a prevalent practice in food nanotechnology. This technology involves using biological molecules to detect food pathogens during storage and transport of foods. Physical factors that affect food quality can also be avoided through nano-encapsulation systems. For instance, probiotics in traditional foods are coated through microencapsulation to avoid erosion of these beneficial bacteria during drying or pasteurization.7
Nanotechnology in the food industry has been utilized to make antioxidants and flavours. Nano-capsules that have specific flavours are made and added to food to give the food the preferred flavour. Nano-capsules that contain antioxidants are added to food, in the same manner. Moreover, there is development of systems that are able to release nutraceuticals in a controlled manner.8
Presently, nanocapsules are used to deliver vitamins and antioxidants among other functional ingredients in food. Nanodispersions are also effective delivery mechanisms that ensure that the food ingredient is not degraded by surrounding chemical or biological factors. The effectiveness of these delivery systems is based on the fact that the systems exhibit compatibility with the functional ingredients in terms of texture, among other characteristics.9
Association colloids such as reverse micelles and vesicles are used for delivering food ingredients of all properties. It is, however, noted that association colloids can interfere with the flavour of the food ingredients. Nanoemulsions are also used to deliver functional ingredients by avoiding chemical degradation of the ingredients. Functional ingredients in food can be encupsulated in biopolymers, allowing release of the ingredients only when required.10
Figure: Some components for making edible films
Source: Weiss et al. (2008. P. 111)
Nanolamites is a nanoscale technology used in the food industry mainly to make edible films used to shield food from moisture or gases, as well as enhance food texture. The films can also be used to carry flavour, nutrients or antimicrobials. Edible nanolaminates are made of proteins and lipids, among other compounds, and can be found in foods such as fruits, fries, and chocolate among others.
Nanolaminates adsorb to food surfaces via electrostatic attraction, thus the nanolaminate contains opposite charges from those of the food ingredient to be coated. Nanofibers are finding use in making bacterial cultures in the food industry. Nanofibers use electrostatic force as the principle behind their application in making structural matrices.11
Application of Food Nanotechnology in food packaging
The most pronounced use of nanotechnology in the food industry is food packaging.12 To start with nanomaterials can be incorporated in packaging systems to enhance various properties such as gas barring properties of a packaging material or moisture stability of the packaging material. Some packaging systems may involve use of nanoparticles that have antimicrobial activities.
There is also the use of nanosensors that monitor food condition, a technique that is referred to “intelligent” packaging. Finally, there is the use of compounds of polymer nano-material for packaging. These composites are biodegradable in nature.13
Clay nano-particles form one of the most renowned nanocomposites used in food packaging. Bentonite, found in volcanic rocks, is the nanoclay that is used in nanocomposites. The nanoclay improves impermeability to gases, making nanocomposites more competent in gas barring properties. Nanoclay-polymers are, therefore, finding use in packaging processed foods such as meat, cereals, and cheese among others.
In addition, nanoclay-polymer composites are used in coating juice and daily product packaging. They are also used in making bottles for beer in a co-extrusion process. Bottles for carbonated drinks are also made using this technology.14 Silver-based nanoclay coatings are also gaining popularity in food packaging since they have antimicrobial activities.
The use of silver is credited for the antimicrobial properties in silver. Silver nano-particles are made through the use of reducing and stabilizing agents. One such agent is soluble starch. Reduction of silver ions can also be done using borohydride to obtain stable nano-particles of silver. AgBr stable nanoparticles can also be obtained by suspending silver nitrate in a medium containing ammonium salt. Intercalated silver ions make silver nanoclay that is used in active packaging.15
Other nanomaterials used in food packaging are made of metal oxides. For instance, titanium dioxide nano-particles act as UV absorbers, thus finding use in plastic packages since the shield against UV-degradation. Nano-particles of zinc oxide and magnesium oxide have also been identified as effective packaging solutions.
Companies that are currently using nanotechnology in food
Nanoclay technology is currently used by Miller Brewing Co. (USA) to make beer bottles in multilayer film packaging. Hite Brewery Co. in South Korea is also utilizing the same technology to manufacture bottles for beer and carbonated drinks. Bayer AG is also using the nanoclay technology to manufacture a hybrid plastic for packaging juice.
In specific, Bayer AG manufactures the Durethan KU2-2601 plastic using the nanoclay technology. Nanocor Inc. also makes PET sheets and bottles known as Imperm. These packaging materials prevent loss of carbon dioxide in carbonated drinks, at the same time preventing entry of oxygen. Sharper Image (USA) manufactures nanosilver containers that prevent microorganisms from growing in packaged foods.
South Korea’s Baby Dream Co. Ltd manufactures “Nano Silver Baby Milk Bottle”, Samsung, among other refrigerator manufacturing companies, are using nanosilver technology to make hygienic inner surfaces of refrigerators.16
Many food companies are reluctant of going public about use of nanotechnology in their processes.17 It is thought that consumers may shy away from products manufacture using nanotechnology in the same way consumers got scared of genetically engineered foods.18 Despite these fears, the successful use of nanotechnology in food packaging is already telling enough that food nanotechnology is a big business in the future.
It is expected that commercialization of nanoscale science in foods and beverages will take place soon.19 There is need to establish regulations in the area of food nanotechnology. Various bodies such as the FDA ought to hasten these steps in order to realize extensive commercialization of the various applications of food nanotechnology. How fast this is done will determine the future of food nanotechnology and the speed at which this technology grows.
Food nanotechnology is a field of nanotechnology that is growing at a relatively slow pace compared to other areas of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology has been used in the food industry to enhance food flavour, texture, as well as aid in transporting food ingredients. Moreover, nanotechnology has found use in packaging foods and drinks, thus improving shelf life, food hygiene, and safety.
A number of companies are already harnessing nanotechnology in the food industry by developing improved packaging containers with the use of nanoparticles. Regulation of food nanotechnology will help advance this industry by improving consumer confidence.
Brown, H, ‘The US charges ahead when it comes to nanotechnology,’ Food Manufacture, vol. 84, no. 6, 2009, p. 14.
Busolo, MA, Ferbandez, P, Ocio, MJ, & Lagaron, JM, ‘Novel silver-based nanoclay as an antimicrobial in polylactic acid food packaging coatings,’ Food Additives and Contaminants, vol. 27, no. 11, 2010, pp. 1617-1626.
Chaudhry, Q, Scotter, M, Blackburn, J, Ross, B, Boxall, A, Castle, L, Aitken, R & Watkins Richards, ‘Applications and implications of nanotechnologies for the food sector’, Food Additives and Contaminants, vol. 25, no. 3, 2008, pp. 241-258.
Dingman, J, ‘Nanotechnology: It’s impact on food safety’, Journal of Environmental Health, vol. 70, no. 6, 2008), pp. 47-50.
Duncan, TV, ‘Applications of nanotechnology in food packaging and food safety: barrier materials, antimicrobials and sensors,’ Journal of Colloid and Interface Science xxx, 2011, pp. 1-24 (article in press).
Food Forum, Institute of Medicine, Nanotechnology in food products: Workshop summary, Washington, D.C, National Academies Press, 2009.
Fuhrman, E, ‘The possibilities of nanotechnology,’ Beverage Industry, 2009, p. 62.
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Groves, K & Titoria, P, ‘Nanotechnology and the food industry,’ FS&T, vol. 23, no. 2 n.d., pp. 19-20.
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Poncelet, D, Picot, A, & Mafadi, S, ‘Encapsulation: an essential technology for functional food applications’, Innovations in Food Technology, vol. 22, February 2011, pp. 32-34.
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1 Ibid, 310
2 H Brown, ‘The US charges ahead when it comes to nanotechnology,’ Food Manufacture, vol. 84, no. 6 2009, p. 14
3 Q, Chaudhry, S Michael, B James, R Bryony, B Alistair, C Laurence, A Robert, & W Richard, ‘Applications and implications of nanotechnologies for the food sector,’ Food Additives and Contaminants, vol. 25, no. 3, 2008, p. 242
4 T Duncan, ‘Applications of nanotechnology in food packaging and food safety: barrier materials, antimicrobials and sensors,’ Journal of Colloid and Interface Science xxx, 2011, p. 1(article in press)
5 J Weiss, T Paul, & M Julian, Functional materials in food nanotechnology,’ Journal of Food Science, vol. 71, no. 9, 2006, p. 112.
6 L Xu, LYing, B Ru, & C Chunying, ‘Applications and toxicological issues surrounding nanotechnology in the food industry,’ Pure and Applied Chemistry, vol. 82, no. 2, 2010, p. 354
7 D Poncelet, A Picot, & S Mafadi, ‘Encapsulation: an essential technology for functional food applications’, Innovations in Food Technology, vol. 22, February 2011, pp. 32.
8 T Traver, ‘Food nanotechnology,’ Journal of Food Science, 2006, p. 22.
10 J Weiss, T Paul, & M Julian, ‘Functional materials in food nanotechnology,’ Journal of Food Science, vol. 71, no. 9, 2006, p. 109.
11 J Weiss, T Paul, & M Julian, ‘Functional materials in food nanotechnology,’ Journal of Food Science, vol. 71, no. 9, 2006, p. 114.
12 Q, Chaudhry, S Michael, B James, R Bryony, B Alistair, C Laurence, A Robert, & W Richard, ‘Applications and implications of nanotechnologies for the food sector,’ Food Additives and Contaminants, vol. 25, no. 3, 2008, p. 245
13 A Goho, ‘Hungry for nano,’ Science News, vol. 166, no. 13, 2004, p. 200.
14 Q, Chaudhry, S Michael, B James, R Bryony, B Alistair, C Laurence, A Robert, & W Richard, ‘Applications and implications of nanotechnologies for the food sector,’ Food Additives and Contaminants vol. 25. no. 3, 2008, p. 246.
15 M Busolo A, F Patricia, O Maria,& L Jose, ‘Novel silver-based nanoclay as an antimicrobial in polylactic acid food packaging coatings’, Food Additives and Contaminants, vol. 27, no. 11, 2010, p. 1617.
16 Q Chaudhry, S Michael, B James, R Bryony, B Alistair, C Laurence, A Robert, & W Richard, ‘Applications and implications of nanotechnologies for the food sector,’ Food Additives and Contaminants, vol. 25, no. 3, 2008, p. 246.
17 K Groves, and Titoria Pretima, “Nanotechnology and the food industry,” FS&T, vol. 23, no. 2, n.d., p. 20.
18 J Dingman, ‘Nanotechnology: it’s impact on food safety,’ Journal of Environmental Health, vol. 70, no. 6, 2008, p. 48.
19 E Fuhrman, ‘The possibilities of nanotechnology,’ Beverage Industry, 2009, p. 62.