Project leader Dr Stefan Weigel, Institute for Food Safety within Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, told FoodProductionDaily.com: “The new website will present the objectives of the NanoLyse project launched in January this year and report on progress towards meeting those objectives.”
The NanoLyse initiative, backed by EU funding of €2.95m, will explore nanoparticles behaviour in terms of a range of applications across the food industry from its use as a potential anti-microbial coating for food contact surfaces or packaging to incorporation with ingredients.
Elsewhere, research is underway to engineer nanosensors to detect pathogens and toxins in food or to register environmental changes. For example, nanochips in smart inks could be used for food packaging to warn if the temperature of the package rose above programmed limits.
Speaking last month at the International Food Technologists’ International Food Nanoscience conference, Chicago, Weigel said that although the potential benefits of nanotechnologies applied to food and beverages are well described, their potential eco-toxicological effects have so far received little attention.
At present, there are no suitable methods for detecting the presence of nanoparticles in food reliably and simply, he warned.
So, it is impossible to determine the level of exposure of consumers; a short coming highlighted by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) last year as one of the most important knowledge gaps in the risk assessment of nanoparticles in food.
The project aims to remedy that by developing fast screening methods for nanoparticles in food and beverages. It also aims to develop comprehensive methods for sample processing, separation, identification and characterization of both inorganic and organic nanoparticles.
“A prerequisite for toxicological, toxicokinetic, migration and exposure assessment is the development of analytical tools for the detection and characterization of nanoparticles in complex matrices such as food,” Weigel told the conference.
This challenging task would need “tailored solutions”, identified by NanoLyse, given the wide diversity of engineered nanoparticles for potential use in food in terms of chemical composition, size, size distribution, surface activity and possible interactions with food matrix components such as proteins, he added.
The information generated by these measurement methods is essential if regulatory authorities, policy-makers and the business community are to make accurate and reliable risk assessments about the application of nanotechnology to food and drink, said Weigel.
Priority is being given to investigating nano-silver, nano-silica, titanium dioxide, an organically surface modified nano-clay and organic nano-encapsulates that can be conducted in existing food analysis laboratories.
The NanoLyse project will run initially for three years and is being co-ordinated by Wageningen University’s Institute for Food Safety alongside Vienna Technical University, Austria, the Danish Technical University other European universities and research institutes, small and medium-sized enterprises and the University of Alberta, Canada.
Meanwhile, the global nanofoods market was worth $410m in 2006 and would grow to $5.8bn within the next two years, according to international consultancy Cientifica.