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Emerging Nanotechnology in the Food Industry

Mahanoy City, PA
particles, nanoparticles

People frequently associate nanotechnology with “superhero tech” based on various movies that depict it as such. Even though it isn’t possible to construct a suit using nanotechnology yet, there have been incredible advances in the field. This niche part of technology is used to improve the designs of products in several ways, although it’s not commonly recognized. Nanotechnology is widely used in modern industries, including medicine, civil engineering, environmental applications, and solar technology. However, an emerging interest is nanotechnology being used in the food industry. It’s being integrated for a large range of purposes, from improving foodstuffs to detecting bacteria.

Nanotechnology is a branch of technology that manipulates matter on an atomic scale. It deals with dimensions and tolerances of less than 100 nanometers to manufacture new materials, devices, and structures. Nanomaterials are small, approximately 60,000 times smaller than human hair. There are many different types of nanomaterials due to the variations in their properties, which provide opportunities in the food industry. These structures, such as nanoliposomes, nanoemulsions, nanoparticles, and nanofibers, can be used as building blocks to create new structures or add functionalities to food. Different nanomaterials are concentrated in various areas of the food industry, including processing, preservation, packaging, and food safety.  Three types of nanomaterials are utilized: inorganic, surface-functionalized, and organically engineered.

Inorganic materials include engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) of transition metals like silver or iron; alkaline earth metals like calcium; and nonmetals like selenium and silicates. Depending on the metal, ENMs are mainly used in food packaging and sometimes in food products. Inorganic nanomaterials are increasingly being used in consumer products due to their ability to act as food additives. Nano-iron, for example, is a water decontaminant that is also available as a health supplement. 

Surface-functionalized nanoparticles build on nanoparticles' existing functions. Like inorganic materials, functionalized EMNs are commonly used in food packaging. They can have antibacterial properties or act as a preservative by absorbing oxygen, which are great tools in food packaging. Surface-functionalized nanoparticles offer strength or barriers between gasses, volatile components, or moisture. However, surface-functionalized nanoparticles are more likely to react to different food components, so they're not ideal for migration from packaging materials or translocation to other organs outside the GI tract. Nanoclay is an example of a surface-functionalized nanomaterial, which is organically modified to bind to polymer matrices and can help to develop materials with enhanced gas-barrier properties.

Organic nanoparticles are naturally occurring substances, so there is a wide range of materials available. Organic nanomaterials can primarily be used in food and can increase uptake and absorption in a variety of food products, such as food additives like benzoic acid, and supplements like vitamin A. Nutraceuticals, consisting of plant-based food additives, are one type of organic nanomaterial. 

Any changes in major industries have a massive effect on consumers or the general public, meaning that nanotechnology being implemented in the food industry directly impacts people. Nanotechnology has greatly improved various aspects, such as shelf life extension, bacteria detection, and bioavailability. The preservation and packaging of food products are crucial to protecting food from bacteria. ‘Smart’ packaging made from nanotechnology can increase shelf life, meaning that it can be transferred to different locations further. 

Bacterial detection is an important factor in the food industry and is implemented into 'smart’ packaging. Due to the serious problem of foodborne illness in today’s world, nanotechnology has been working towards improving it. Nanosensors are a new application of nanotechnology in food safety, and they can be used to detect pathogens and other types of bacteria. These alerts can allow bacterial invasions to be easily analyzed and handled. 

Bioavailability is another significant component of the food industry. Bioavailability is the proportion of a drug or substance’s effect when it enters the body’s circulation. This is essential for evaluating drugs and determining appropriate dosages, which is vital for developing new drugs. Nanoparticles increase bioavailability by reducing particle size, altering surfaces, and associating or entrapping phytomedicine with various micro or nanopolymers. The drug absorption of micronutrients or supplements like folic acid and vitamin B12 has improved because of the factors nanoparticles provide.

Despite the positives of nanomaterials, it is important to note that there are several downsides because most projects are still in progress. Nanotechnology is still a developing subject. Some nanomaterials can possess traits that can be hazardous to the human body upon consumption. There is also a potential risk in food packaging, due to their ability to penetrate cellular and membrane barriers because of scale. Nanotechnology being a new concept in the food industry also means it’s difficult to infer if it’s completely a positive or a negative. Furthermore, standardized tests and procedures to study the effects of nanoparticles are needed.

However, nanotechnology plays an important role when it comes to innovations and solutions in the food industry, and it’s continuing to advance. Finding new ways to push the boundaries of nanotechnology can inspire breakthroughs that can further improve existing materials and designs. Although these developments are microscopic, the impact can be huge.


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