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Home > Press > Nanotechnology. It's What's For Dinner!

Abstract:
Nanofoods are quietly revolutionizing all aspects of the food industry. Foods of the future will taste better, have amazing health benefits, and be much less expensive than they are today.

Nanotechnology. It's What's For Dinner!

Posted on February 2nd, 2011

Nanofoods are coming to a grocery store near you. Employing "nanotechnology techniques or tools … during cultivation, production, processing, or packaging of the food," nanofoods are silently causing a revolution in our relationship to what we eat.

"Nanotechnology is having an impact on several aspects of the food industry, from how food is grown to how it is packaged. Companies are developing nanomaterials that will make a difference not only in the taste of food, but also in food safety, and the health benefits food delivers." - Earl Boysen

All of the major players in the food industry (Kraft, Nestlé, Heinz, Kellogg, Danone, General Mills, Unilever, PepsiCo, Campbell's, McCain, Sara Lee, Hershey, Cargill, Goodman Fielder, etc.) are currently involved in nanofood research. None, however seem even the slightest bit interested in making this research known publicly; searching 'nanotechnology' or 'nano' on any of these companies' websites returns exactly zero results. With millions of dollars at stake, manufacturers are understandably fearful of another public backlash akin to the Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) debacle of the 1990's. Ironically, it is this fear itself that may unintentionally cause the very result they are trying so hard to avoid: losing consumer confidence by trying to hide these activities. Trust is the name of this game, and public opinion will ultimately determine the future of nanofoods.

One of the first areas of the food industry to be affected (already) by nanotechnology is packaging. Plastic bottles incorporating polymer-clay nanocomposites increase product shelf life considerably by decreasing permeability. Nanotech has the potential to dramatically enhance packaging by identifying and combating biological and chemical contaminants with nanoparticles; finding and automatically eliminating bacteria with carbohydrate nanoparticles; creating a barrier between your food and the environment that keeps oxygen out and potentially traps carbon dioxide in; using organic nano-fibers to create "green packaging;" and tracking outbreaks faster via nanobarcode tags that trace individual products through every step of their manufacture and distribution. It will even warn you if oxygen gets in or the product becomes contaminated. Nano-scale filters will allow bacteria to be separated from water or milk, for example, without the need for pasteurization. Such a filter would even be able to remove the "red" from red wine! Antibacterial packaging and self-cleaning containers will also allow food to be safely stored for longer periods of time.

Foods themselves could be made to taste better and at the same time be better for you. So-called "nutraceuticals" (combining nutritients and pharmaceuticals to provide all-in-one health and medical benefits,) for example, can be nano-encapsulated and added to foods to provide highly bio-available vitamins, antioxidants, and essential fatty acids. Food flavor can be enhanced by actually tricking the tongue with sweet or salty enhancers or bitter blockers. Also, by increasing the surface area (using finer particles) of some flavor ingredients, taste may be improved, while the same amount of these basic ingredients (and calories) may be used. Using nano-sized ingredients can even result in improved stability, spreadability, and texture in the mouth. Nano-encapsulation technology will allow oil to be dissolved in water or vice versa. It can deliver nutrients straight through the mucosal membranes of your mouth, nose, or gut, and it is going
to make "healthy" taste a whole lot better.

Another reason that both the food industry and consumers should find nanofoods of interest is their prospect of providing plentiful, inexpensive, nutrient packed sustenance to all - including those who might not otherwise be able to afford to eat nourishing food.

"In a world where thousands of people starve each day, increased production alone is enough to warrant worldwide support. For the past few years, the food industry has been investing millions of dollars in nanotechnology research and development. But - and it's a big but - I think research must be thorough and open before distributing nanofoods to Americans," - Bio-chemist, Dr. D.M. Beck

Many materials such as titanium dioxide (a whitener) and silica have been used in foods as micro-scale particles for decades with no ill effects. However, at the nanoscale, these same particles change their properties entirely, and what was safe at the micro scale may become toxic and even cause DNA damage and cancers when reduced to the nano realm.

In the absence of a regulatory framework, nanotechnological modification of the world's food supply could potentially have some rather negative implications. Now is the time to put regulations in place to protect the consumer, not after we see the first casualties of untested technology in the food supply. At the moment, nanofoods have the potential to either improve our health and our lives, or to cause sickness and death. The outcome with depend upon whether the profit-motivated food industry is left to regulate itself, or if governments step up to the plate and require all new nanomaterials intended for consumption to be thoroughly tested and clearly marked before turning up in the foods we eat.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Steven B. Young is a realism artist (EpicArt.net) and webmaster of TheNanoAge.com, a website extolling the virtues and warning of the possible perils of the most powerful technology ever. This article may be freely reproduced in any form, so long as this notice is included.

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