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Institute of Medicine (US) Food Forum. Nanotechnology in Food Products: Workshop Summary. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009.

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Nanotechnology in Food Products: Workshop Summary.

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Overview

Nanotechnology is giving scientists the means to make and manipulate matter at a size scale never before possible and create novel structures with highly unique properties and wide-ranging applications. Manufacturing industries are actively exploring potential applications of nanotechnology, and many products made with nanoengineered materials are entering the marketplace. In the food industry, scientists are exploring nanotech’s potential to encapsulate and deliver nutrients directly into targeted tissues, enhance the flavor and other sensory characteristics of foods, and introduce antibacterial nanostructures into foods, among other applications. The potential benefits are not just in foods themselves but also in the things that “surround” foods, like food packaging, food processing and sensory systems, and basic food and nutrition science research.

However, as with any new technology, along with the intended and ancillary benefits of these applications, there will likely be unanticipated adverse effects. There is still a great deal to learn about the nutritional and safety consequences of introducing nanosized materials into foods and food packaging materials. For example, how do the properties of nanomaterials change when introduced into different types of food matrices or migrate from packaging materials into foods? What happens when nanomaterials interact with a unique biological system such as the human gut? And what is required for evaluating and balancing the potential benefits and risks of introducing nanosized materials into foods and, via those foods, into the human body? Developing nanotechnology into a safe, effective tool for use in food science and technology will require addressing these and other questions. Assuring consumer confidence will be equally important to the success of this new emerging technology.

On December 10, 2008, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) held a one-day workshop to further explore the use of nanotechnology in food. Specifically, the workshop was organized around three primary topic areas: (1) the application of nanotechnology to food products (“Session 1”); (2) the safety and efficacy of nanomaterials in food products (“Session 2”); and (3) educating and informing consumers about the applications of nanotechnology to food products (“Session 3”). Ten experts who have been involved in food nanotechnology since its inception and who are recognized as world authorities in the field were invited to give presentations. Each session comprised three or four presentations, followed by open discussion.

This report is a summary of the presentations and discussions that took place during the workshop. The organization of the workshop report parallels the organization of the workshop itself, with the Session 1 presentations and discussions summarized in Chapter 2 (“Application of Nanotechnology to Food Products”); Session 2 presentations and discussions summarized in Chapter 3 (“Safety and Efficacy of Nanomaterials in Food Products”); and Session 3 presentations and discussions summarized in Chapter 4 (“Educating and Informing Consumers About Applications of Nanotechnology to Food Products”). Each chapter begins with an overview of the major issues addressed during that session.

The meeting transcripts and presentations served as the basis for the summary. The agenda for the workshop appears in Appendix A, and Appendix B lists the workshop participants. Appendix C contains the biographical sketches for the presenters, moderators, and panelists. Appendix D lists acronyms and abbreviations used throughout the workshop. The reader should be aware that the material presented here expresses the views and opinions of individuals participating in the workshop either as presenters, panelists or audience members, and not the deliberations or conclusions of a formally constituted IOM committee. The objective of the workshop was not to come to consensus on any single issue. Nor was the goal to comprehensively address all pertinent food safety issues. It was to examine ways that nanotechnology applications in food and nutrients can contribute to the wellbeing of the general public and safety of nanotechnology in food products. These proceedings summarize only the statements of workshop participants and are not intended to be an exhaustive exploration of the subject matter.

Food Forum Chair Michael Doyle opened the meeting with some brief introductory remarks. While there would be some discussion later during the workshop around the lack of consensus regarding a specific definition of nanotechnology (or nanotechnologies), nanotechnology as a term generally defines objects that fall within the 1 to 100 nanometer (nm) scale, with 1 nm equaling one-billionth of a meter (10−9 m), As Doyle put it, nanomaterials are so small, even bacteria would need a microscope to see them! Nanosized structures can do “incredible” things, Doyle said, when they are applied to foods—they can change the color, smell, or other sensory characteristics, and they can alter the nutritional functionality. Some key questions remain, however, regarding the nutritional and safety consequences of using nanomaterials as food components. The purpose of the workshop, Doyle said, was to discuss the applications of nanotechnology in food, the potential benefits for food safety and nutrition applications, and issues of safety and consumer concerns about the use of nanotechnologies in food.

Doyle acknowledged members of the planning committee, then introduced the first speaker of the day, Rickey Yada, whom Doyle said would be providing an overview of nanotechnology and opportunities for it to be applied in foods, food packaging, and nutrient delivery. A paraphrased summary of Yada’s presentation is provided in Chapter 1.

Copyright © 2009, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK32725

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