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Nanotechnology Applications in Food Industry

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  • Sahar Traboulsi

Nanotechnology is being used in food in a very wide spectrum. It is applied in food from the stage of growing it till the stage of packaging by using different machines, different systems and at a certain scale which is less than 100 nanometers as defined by the Royal Society. This subject was going under research where two Agency research projects were completed in 2008. This paper will be covering the different applications of nanotechnology in food ranging from manipulating the texture, flavor and color, to enhancing the health benefits, maintaining the safety of food, and packaging of food. Nanotechnology also encounters advantages and disadvantages regarding the human health and the food quality.

The Application of Nanotechnology in Food Quality

Food Testing is a very important activity done in the food industry. It is done for a variety of reasons, such as testing the physical properties of food, the shelf life of the product, and the identification of the chemical components of the food (Food Chemistry Testing). In addition, this is counted as testing the quality of food being served for the consumers in order to know whether the food is safe for them or not. Recently, nanotechnology has been introduced in the food market where many scientists are warning from its serious risks on human and environment due to the concept of manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules (Miller, 2007)

Nanoparticles are being introduced in food in order to change the texture, flavor, and color of food, in addition to offering benefits in food safety and enhancing the health benefits of food. Food texture, taste and color are changed by applying changes on the nano-size scale. Proteins are assembled in order to change the food’s texture such as in yogurt where the protein undergoes denaturation and then reassembling of the components which will form larger structures. These large structures will assemble and form gel networks that are the texture of the product (Aguilera, 2009). Some foods such as chocolate shake are coated with cocoa particles in order to change their taste into creamy chocolate (Titoria & Groves, 2009). Oilfresh Company introduced nanotechnology in frying oil which are nanoporous pellets that help oil to heat faster and results in better taste and texture in the fries and in less oil content (http://ice.chem.wisc.edu/NanoDecisions/PDF/Agriculture.pdf)

Our body is in need for many nutrients in order to maintain a good health and a healthy immune system; some of these nutrients are introduced in food via nanotechnology. There are nano-sized capsules designed to carry omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, enzymes, and providing the solubility of some vitamins that are being used in food nowadays, for example for patients that have deficiency in certain vitamins. Nano encapsulation is the technique used in order to mask the nutrients that would spoil the taste of a product which will make them tasteless. There are features that should be taken into consideration in order to have a good delivery. These features include an affordable cost, ease of performance, safety, and prevention of active substrate from degradation or oxidation, and sufficient amount of bioactive substances to obtain desired results (Soutter, 2013).

Another health benefit is obtaining food that is lower in fat. For example, mayonnaise contains extremely small droplets of oil surrounded by a sheath of surfactants and embedded in water. The replacement of the inside of the oil droplets with water can lead to the decrease in the fat content of the mayonnaise without altering the taste or texture of it (Kampers, 2009).

Nano encapsulation is a technique used in food that enhances its nutritional value by reducing the particle size of the active compound. The desired active molecules are isolated and enclosed in a sheath which makes it easier to be absorbed in the body. There are different platforms for this technique as depicted in table 1 (Soutter, 2013):




Nano emulsion

Lipid droplets

Encapsulate and deliver vitamins, and other supplements.

Solid Lipid Nanoparticles

Either semi crystalline or crystalline

Allows the delivery of hydrophobic materials.


Nano capsules made of lipid bi-layer, water, and phospholipids

Allows the delivery of hydrophobic.


Droplets of surfactants

Enable the delivery of hydrophobic compounds.

Whey proteins

Made of β-lactoglobulin and α-lactalbumin

Deliver hydrophilic compounds to the intestinal mucosa.

Chitosan carbohydrate

Bio-compatible, non-toxic material

Allows delivery of different compounds to the oral or to the intestinal mucosa.

Degradable and bio compatible silica


Allows the delivery of various hydrophilic nutrients to the stomach.

Our food is contaminated with bacteria and pathogens which will lead us to many diseases. Nanotechnology provides the means of bacterial identification and elimination of bacteria. Nano carbohydrate particles bind with the bacteria in order to be detected and eliminated. Researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina used this technique in the chicken food to remove campylobacter, a bacterium in poultry that leads to cramps and diarrhea in people ingesting contaminated meat. The nano particles present in the food will bind to the bacteria and will be eliminated through the chicken’s feces (Discovery, 2009). Further research is made in order to combine these particles with sensors to identify and eliminate other bacteria.

People have the right to know the quality of food they are buying and consuming; nanotechnology made it easier by using stickers that change color depending on the period and temperature that the product has been stored at (Kampers, 2009). This way is more accurate for the consumer than the way that states best used before or sell by and other dates. Also, there are color changing labels that detect ripeness, for example, such stickers are applied on pears that turn red meaning the pear is crisp, while a yellow dot meaning the pear is soft. This makes it easier for people to choose their food the way they prefer it (Kampers, 2009).

Nanotechnology in food is beneficial to the human being’s life in several ways; the application provides better food quality which is one of the most important issues for the consumer. One of the benefits is in the third world countries where the food supply is not enough and is of low quality which leads to many diseases and nutritional deficiencies (Nanotechnology in Food). On the other hand, any person in any country benefits from nanotechnology which provides different applications in order to lead to a better life style; Applications include enhancing the delivery of vitamins and other supplements which are needed for deficient people through nano capsules, elimination of bacteria, conservation of the food quality by better packaging and protecting from any contamination, better texture and flavor that matches the person’s own desires. Some people have their own diet which might be a low fat diet; nanotechnology also provides them with food that is lower in fat which matches their diet and in the same time being able to eat whatever they like (Kampers, 2009). In addition, there are waxy coatings that increase the shelf life of food products such as apples, meat, cheese, and vegetables. These waxy coatings are edible and invisible to the human eye which can also deliver nutrients, enzymes and protects food from moisture and gas exchange (Nutrition and Development, 2010).

On the other hand, nanotechnology has disadvantages and risks on the human beings life. Some doctors state that nanoparticles are very small in size so that they can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, the membrane that protects the brain from harmful and toxic chemicals in the bloodstream, where larger molecules cannot pass through. After they cross the blood-brain barrier, the particles will pass to organs such as the kidneys, and liver (Smithers, 2010). For example, nano materials present in the food packaging would migrate from the package to the interior of the food which may contain chemicals or molecules that may harm (Ortiz, 2014). Workers in this domain are being exposed more to nanotechnology and the materials being used in this industry which makes them also under risk (Cressey, ND) Although some risks are being discussed but this does not apply to all nano materials and does not reflect the risk of nanotechnology itself since it depends on many different settings.


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