Nanotechnology in Food

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Nanotechnology in Food refers to the use of nanoparticles - particles that range from 1 to 100 nanometers in size - in food. Nanotechnology is already used in a number of consumer products, including foods, supplements, pesticides used to grow food,[1] and food packaging.[2] It is also used in supplements, food packaging and cookware, and in actual food items.[3]

Potential Hazards

Nanoproducts in Baby Foods

In 2016, Friends of the Earth found that nanoparticles can be found in popular baby formula. "Friends of the Earth commissioned independent laboratory analysis of popular baby formulas to find out if they contain nanoparticles. There is little information available for consumers to learn about where these ingredients are used in products and what the risks might be. We found engineered nanoingredients in all six baby formulas we tested. See the executive summary here.

Gerber® Good Start® Gentle contains Nano-hydroxyapatite (nano HA). Gerber® Good Start® Soothe contains Titanium dioxide and silicon dioxide (limited amount of particles detected). Enfamil™ contains Nano-hydroxyapatite (nano HA) in needle-like and non needle-like form. Similac® Advance® OptiGRO™ (liquid) contains Titanium dioxide (nano TiO2 laboratory results inconclusive). Similac® Advance® OptiGRO™ (powder)contains Nano silicon dioxide (laboratory results inconclusive). Well Beginnings™ Advantage® contains Nano-hydroxyapatite (nano HA).[4]

From Friend of the Earth Fact Sheet: We have known for at least a decade that there are health risks associated with nanomaterials. Friends of the Earth is especially concerned about the nanohydroxyapatite in needle form found in the Gerber, Enfamil, and Well Beginnings formula. The European Union Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) found that needle nano hydroxyapatite is potentially toxic, could be absorbed by and enter cells and should not be used in cosmetics such as toothpaste, teeth whiteners and mouth washes. A material that should not be used in cosmetics raises greater concern when used in food.[4]

See the full report here

In Food

A 2014 report by the Friends of the Earth found "a tenfold increase in unregulated, unlabeled “nanofood” products on the American market since 2008."[5] As reported in Mother Jones, foods now found to contain nanoparticles "include Dannon Greek Plain Yogurt, Silk Original Soy Milk, Rice Dream Rice Drink, Hershey's Bliss Dark Chocolate, and Kraft's iconic American Cheese Singles."[6]

A study by American, Swiss, and Norwegian researchers entitled Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products estimates and quantifies the human exposure resulting from nanoparticle sized titanium dioxide (TiO2) found in processed foods. The study measured nanoparticles in food-grade TiO2 and derived estimates of nano TiO2 in foods including M&M’s, Betty Crocker Whipped Cream Frosting, Jell-O Banana Cream Pudding, Mentos, Trident and Dentyne gums, Vanilla Milkshake Pop Tarts, and Nestlé Original Coffee Creamer. The authors state that “electron microscopy and stability testing of food-grade TiO2 […] suggests that approximately 36% of the particles are less than 100nm in at least one dimension.[7][8]

Further testing by the group As You Sow found nano-sized titanium dioxide in Dunkin' Donuts Powdered Cake Donuts and Hostess Donettes.[7] Corporations selling foods with nanoparticles are not always aware of the use of nanotechnology in their products, as they may have been included in an ingredient by a supplier without their knowledge.[9]

In Food Packaging

"Nanomaterials are also being explored for their promise to improve food packaging, including providing longer shelf-life for foods, better barrier properties, improved heat resistance and temperature control, and anti-microbial and fungal protections, among others."[7][10] There are many questions about nanoparticles' ability to migrate into the food and about their safety if ingested.

Nanotechnology is already used in:

  • Adhesive for McDonald's burger containers[11]
  • Plastic beer bottles that use clay nanoparticles to make them less likely to break[12] or nano-nylon to keep oxygen out[13]
  • Nanosilver anti-microbial food containers (including some that are sold by the store The Sharper Image)[14][15][16]
  • Food packaging that keeps oxygen out[17]
  • Non-stick coating for bakeware[18][19][20]

Companies such as Kraft and BASF are cited as developing packaging that uses nanotechnology to extend product shelf life or change color when the food has spoiled.[21]

Novel Uses

As far back as 2005, an OECD report cited the following uses of nanotechnology:[21]

  • Nano seeds: "In Thailand, scientists at Chiang Mai University's nuclear physics laboratory have rearranged the DNA of rice by drilling a nano-sized hole through the rice cell's wall and membrane and inserting a nitrogen atom. So far, they've been able to change the colour of the grain, from purple to green."
  • Nanoparticle pesticides: "Monsanto, Syngenta and BASF are developing pesticides enclosed in nanocapsules or made up of nanoparticles. The pesticides can be more easily taken up by plants if they're in nanoparticle form; they can also be programmed to be ”time-released."
  • Nanofeed for Chickens: "With funding from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Clemson University researchers are feeding bioactive polystyrene nanoparticles that bind with bacteria to chickens as an alternative to chemical antibiotics in industrial chicken production."
  • Nano Ponds: "One of the USA’s biggest farmed fish companies, Clear Spring Trout, is adding nanoparticle vaccines to trout ponds, where they are taken up by fish"
  • Food safety: "Scientists from the University of Wisconsin have successfully used single bacterial cells to make tiny bio-electronic circuits, which could in the future be used to detect bacteria, toxins and proteins."


Regulation of Nanotech in Food

Some countries have chosen to regulate or even ban nanotechnology. Another issue is whether to allow nanotechnology in organic food. Canada, for example, does not allow nanotechnology in organic food.[22]

In April 2012, the US FDA issued draft guidance documents for considering the safety of food containing or made using nanotechnology.[23] A year and a half later, Mother Jones noted that the FDA "both 1) acknowledges that nanoparticles pose risks that are substantially different from those of their regular-sized counterparts, and 2) has done nothing to slow down their rapid move into the food supply."[6]

In 2010, the Committee on Environment, Health and Consumer Protection of the European Parliament voted to exclude nanotechnology from the EU list of novel foods allowed on the market. According to Grist,[24] "This committee vote represents one of the first times ever that a legislative body has weighed in on the issue of nanotech particles in food." The European vote was nearly unanimous, with 42 voting in favor, 2 against, and 3 abstaining. The European perspective is not that nanofoods are necessarily unsafe, but that they should be kept off the market until more is known about their safety.[25][26]

Concerns about workplace exposure

Exposure to ultrafine particulate matter may pose a threat to the health of workers in sites where nanotechnology is being used. For example, ultra-fine titanium dioxide (TiO2) powder, including engineered nano-scale TiO2, is used as a whitening agent in many products. A 2011 CDC report found that "exposure to ultrafine TiO2 should be considered a potential occupational carcinogen" due to its higher potency per unit of mass compared to larger particles.[27]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Nanotech Pesticides? Safety Issues Arise: Could Be Safer Than Present Products; Caution Needed,, October 4, 2010, Accessed November 6, 2010.
  2. Friends of the Earth, Nanotech Exposed in Grocery Store Aisles, Press release, March 11, 2008.
  3. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Consumer Products Inventory, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, accessed November 7, 2010.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Friends of the Earth, Factsheet: Nanoparticles in baby formula, factsheet, accessed March 20, 2017.
  5. Friends of the Earth, New report: Tiny ingredients, big risks, May 21, 2014.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tom Philpott, Big Dairy Is Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food, Mother Jones, May 28, 2014.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Andrew Behar, Danielle Fugere, and Michael Passoff," Slipping Through the Cracks: An Issue Brief on Nanomaterials in Food," As You Sow.
  8. Alex Weir, Paul Westerhoff, Lars Fabricius, et al., Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products, Environmental Science & Technology 46, no. 4 (2012): 2242-2250.
  9. Andrew Behar, As You Sow, telephone conversation with Jill Richardson, July 17, 2013.
  10. Alexia Karpilov, Nanomaterials in Food Packaging: Promise and Potential Peril, February 14, 2006.
  11. Adhesive for McDonald's burger containers, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  12. Beer bottle plastics, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  13. Hite brewery beers, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  14. BlueMoonGoods™ Fresh Box Silver Nanoparticle Food Storage Containers, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  15. FresherLonger™ Miracle Food Storage, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  16. FresherLonger™ Plastic Storage Bags, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  17. N-Coat, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  18. Non-stick self-assembling nanofilms for glass bakeware, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  19. Xtrema Cookware, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  20. Xtrema Teaware, Woodrow Wilson Center Project on Emerging Technologies, Accessed November 7, 2010.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and Allianz AG, Small Sizes that Matter: Opportunities and Risks of Nanotechnologies, Allianz AG and The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005.
  22. Ken Roseboro, US National Organic Standards Board still needs to define "nanotechnology", The Organic and Non-GMO Report, May 2010, Accessed November 6, 2010.
  23. FDA, "Guidance Documents & Regulatory Information," April 2014. Accessed May 28, 2014.
  24. Jaydee Hanson, U.S. should follow Europe and put the brakes on nanotech food and other products, Grist, June 29, 2010, Accessed November 6, 2010.
  25. Marion Nestle, The News in Food Nanotechnology, Healthy Child, July 20, 2010, Accessed November 6, 2010.
  26. Rory Harrington, Nano risk assessment a work in progress, July 2, 2010, Accessed November 6, 2010.
  27. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Current Intelligence Bulletin 63: Occupational Exposure to Titanium Dioxide," April 2011. Accessed May 28, 2014.

External resources

External articles








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