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According to a study conducted by Jayas, Neethirajan (2010), they define nanotechnology as a combination of devices and systems that have been designed and produced at a size from 1 to 100 billionths of a meter to be suited for the performance of certain applications. By the use of these devices and systems, particles are created to have specific functions e.g. to deliver functional ingredients to a specific site of action. These newly developed functional particles are called Nanoparticles.
Nanoparticles are defined as particles which are 10 to 1000 nanometers in size as solids or as particulate dispersions (Chen and Mohanraj, 2006). The main use for nanoparticles in the field of nanotechnology is to be used as a delivery system for functional ingredients or drugs to a predetermined site of the human body in medical and food production fields.
Other revolutionary ways in which nanoparticle technology may influence the world are in the fields of energy production, environmental and agricultural environment, defence, computer technologies and education (Bhatia and Patni, 2004).
The hype surrounding the use of nanoparticle technology filtered to the core of the food processing and production industries with many existing applications already in the market. Because the technology is still relatively in the development stages, there aren't any internationally set standards that govern or monitor the application of the technology. In addition, there aren't any standardised terminology resulting in a barrier to communication with the consumer and therefore public awareness regarding the topic is minimal. The Food and Drug Administration in the US is the only organisation in the world that has a definition for nanotechnology and nanoproducts (Chan, Wu and Yen, 2007).
Like all new technological developments, the negative consequences inevitably arise. In this assignment, some adverse effects resulting from the use of nanoparticle technology will be discussed with health and environmental impacts being high up on the list of negativities to be considered.
Application of Nanoparticles in Food and Packaging
The full potential of nanotechnology and the use of nanoparticles in the food industry are still yet to be discovered with lots of 'white space" yet to be explored. This "white space" could be explored by the use of micelles, liposomes, nanoemulsion applications, biopolymetric particle cubosomes and food safety. On the contrary, nanoparticles have already been successful in applications like deodorisation, antimicrobials, slow release neutraceuticles, disinfectant functions and water purification (Chan, Wu, Yen, 2007).
Nanoparticle use in foods acts as a whitener in the form of titanium dioxide and anti-caking agents. Functional foods contain nanoparticle doses of nutritional additives that promote health benefits (SM and Elneshwy, 2010).
Currently, food packaging aids in the extended shelf life of its contents by prolonging degradation by gasses and spoilage microorganisms, however nanoparticles embedded in food packaging drastically raises the hopes of the packaging industry. Packaging will now have active particles working hard to remove spoilage gasses once detected, pinholes or leaks in packaging will repair itself, colours may change to indicate spoilage and active particles will attack any form of spoilage microorganisms by releasing antimicrobial residues (Neethirajan and Jayas, 2010).
Production lines in factories build up salmonella, listeria, and staphylococcus called bio film on conveyor belts over time and hard to reach spots during cleaning therefore antimicrobial technology has been incorporated in production. The conveyor belts are armed with coatings of anti-microbials to fight of any spoilage microorganism. The innovation saves downtime for cleaning and cleaning staff no longer have to be in contact with harsh chemicals during wash down (Mahalik and Nabiar, 2010).
Anti-microbial packaging commonly uses silver, zinc oxide or chlorine dioxide nanoparticles as a defence against microorganisms whereas some chemical releasing packaging releases biocide when spoilage microorganisms once detected (SM and Elneshwy, 2010).
Smart packaging also takes advantage of nanoparticle technology and can provide self-cooling beverages by the use of Zeolite technology and self-heating applications where hot beverages are preferred and this could be made possible through a strong exothermic reaction of nanoparticles, CaO (Mahalik and Nambiar, 2010). Oxygen and carbon dioxide ingress into packaging are dramatically decreased by the use of nylon nanocomposites which ultimately leads to longer shelf life of products (Chan, Wu and Yen, 2007).
Applications of Nanoparticulate Delivery Systems
Fortification of food has nanoscale through the use of nanosized capsules that have the ability to be filled with functional ingredients like bioactive ingredients, bioactive substances, flavanoids and carotenoids. Applications of nanoencapsulation also include fortifying bread with encapsulated tuna fish oil without the bad taste but with all the nutritional benefits (SM and Elneshwy, 2010). Apart from omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids being encapsulated, probiotics, prebiotics, vitamins, and minerals have also been nanoencapsulated for various applications (Sozer and Kokim, 2009)
Research conducted by Rahimnejad, Mokhtarian and Ghasemi (2009) suggests that the latest delivery method or system is the protein nanoparticle delivery system which is developed using a different method called synthetic protein nanostructure. The positives for using protein nanoparticles to deliver functional ingredients are stability for long periods of time, non-toxic and biodegradable. This advancement further increases the cellular uptake of functional ingredients for sustained periods of time.
The use of nanoencapsulation is also used widely in the medical field to deliver drugs into the body. Research conducted by Sundar, Kunda and Kunda (2009) suggests that the particle size of nanocapsules affects the drug release as larger surface area is offer by smaller particles to which enzymes are attached to limit the diffusion resistance of substrates.
Use of Gold Nanoparticles in the Medical Field
A study conducted by Hainfeld, et. al. (2006) suggests that gold nanoparticles provide superior X-ray images compared to iodine agents and also allowing longer imaging times. This was concluded after mice were injected with gold nanoparticles and X-rayed. Because the gold particles were small enough to go through tiny blood vessels (less than 100 micrometers) and even through to the liver, kidneys and spleen where the particles were retained, all these organs appeared in extremely high definition contrasts in comparison to iodine-based agents.
Gold as a metal is non-toxic; however it may possibly be toxic in nanosized particles. Continued research will soon clarify that, although the belief is that it has no toxicity.
Disadvantages of Nanoparticle Technology
Although food packaging made from nanomaterials and packaging that contain nanoparticles are normally not inhaled or eaten by consumers, future research in detail will have to be carried out to evaluate the effects of the antimicrobial agents on the packaging have on flora in the gut and mouth (Sozer and Kokini, 2009).
Research conducted by Patni and Bhatia (2004) suggests that nanoparticles are toxic to human tissue and cell cultures. Nanoparticles are small enough to travel through to the heart, kidneys, liver and brain of which the effects on these organs are unknown.
A study conducted by Patni and Bhatia (2004) suggests that nanoplastic bags and nanoplastic chips which are currently being produced, will soon pose a potential pollution problem. Furthermore, the interaction that these nanomaterials have with the environment is further unknown.
How Would I use Nanoparticle Technology?
After reading and studying many articles on this subject, one can say that there are many advantages and disadvantages of the applications of nanoparticles; however it is understood that nanoparticle technology is still developing and based on my current knowledge I would choose nanoparticle technology to fortify food by the use of the Protein Delivery System.
There are literally thousands of people dying from starvation and malnutrition worldwide with the highest percentage being from across the African continent. My aim is to fortify basic foods like grain, maize and legumes with high energy, proteins, carbohydrates, essential vitamins and minerals, etc. with the use of the Protein Delivery System so that it could be given as food aid to the needy.
The highly nutritious basic food will provide them with nourishment and help restore their health with a lower volume of food thereby reducing death, sickness and diseases in the lives of the poor.
My choice for the Protein Delivery System is because it is non-toxic to humans and biodegradable. It can maintain the functional ingredients in a stable state for long periods of time and also enhances the cellular uptake of functional ingredients for sustainable periods. It doesn't cause any harm to those ingesting the proteins and it has no negative environmental impact.
The potential for nanotechnology to further expand the boundaries in the food industry is very real, but the need to grow and develop should be proportionate to the growth of the health, safety and environmental implications that follow.
A clear and concise regulation for the use of nanotechnology in food and food packaging with specific standards for testing performed as a prerequisite before going into application.