Are we eating nanofoods already?

After fast food, slow food, gentech food we now also have nanofoods. This means that nanotechnology has been used during the production or packaging of food. In science we use the prefix nano to point out a certain size. Nanoparticles are particles as small as a billionth of a meter. In other words too small to imagine.

Some examples

An example of nanofoods is a bread innovation by Tip Top Bakeries in Australia. It adds Omega 3 fatty acids (mainly cod-liver oil) in its bread by encapsulating the fish oil into tiny nanospheres. By encapsulating the fish oil this way it has no effect on taste and the healthy fatty acids are only released in the small intestine. Researchers are capable of carving up a grain of salt in nanometer-sized particles. This will increase its surface area a million-fold, which means that your food needs far less salt for the same savoury kick.

You find most applications of nanotechnology in food packaging. Nanosensors embedded in food containers can monitor the freshness by analyzing gases emitted by food and show it to the consumer by discoloring a tag on the food label before we even smell it. The German Fraunhofer Institute has developed a 10-nanometer thin aluminum oxide coating (a human hair is 80,000 nanometers thick) that prevents moisture migration through the packaging. Cereals and chips packaged this way remain fresh much longer.

Is it safe?

The possibilities of nanotechnology are enormous. All major food companies around the world are researching possible applications of nanotechnology in food and food packaging. But is there a downside? Are there reasons to be concerned? Has the impact of fortifying food with nanoparticles already been thoroughly studied? How do nanoparticles in our body behave? Are there long-term health risks? Could nanomaterials released into the waste stream pose a new range of environmental risks? Many questions, but no answers yet. That’s why in Europe nanotech must stay out of food until it has been proven safe. In the US the FDA is still looking into it, but – to date – have not taken any action.


Published: 02-05-2013


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