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Food safety rules and costs threaten nano science benefits

By Mike Stones, 16-Jun-2009

Related topics: Quality, Safety, Hygiene, Packaging Technology, Safety & Regulation

Over restrictive federal regulation of nano science should not be allowed to strangle the benefits the technology could bring to food safety, quality and availability, warns William Norwood, president nanoAgri Systems.

Speaking at the IFT International Nanoscience conference at Anaheim, California, Norwood told FoodProductionDaily.com that: “The benefits of nano technology across a wide range of industries could be more important than nuclear energy. But restrictive rules could kill it…Nano is now a fear word.”

Environmental groups are lobbying the Environmental Protection Agency in a bid to persuade it to close the US nano industry, he said.

Also the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act is placing big barriers to the development of nanotechnology.

But nano science could make vast contributions to cutting food waste and improving quality. “The US armed services alone waste millions of dollars a year on fruit and vegetable spoilage. Only about 40 per cent of produce reaches the end user.” That could be prevented with antimicrobial nanotech coatings on vegetable packages which could save millions of dollars a year, he said. It could also help to reduce reliance on conventional pesticides.

Vegetable packaging

Norwood told delegates that he became interested in nanotechnology as a means of safeguarding his vegetable packaging business. A number of his customers were going out of business because salmonella and molds had infected their produce. Norwood’s remedy was to develop a machine capable of coating vegetable packages with a nano layer of silver that acted as an antimicrobial barrier.

This was achieved by passing nano-sized droplets through a flame which transforms them into a vapour. This vapour coats the packaging painting it with a layer of nanoparticles.

In tests, this coating delayed the development of salmonella, listeria and E-coli. Although precisely how nanoparticles kill microbes is unknown, their positive charges are thought to disrupt the organisms’ respiration.

Other applications for antimicrobial nano layers could be to coat all forms of food packaging, conveyer belts and contact surfaces, he said.

Anti Microbial

But Norwood said that his company has decided not to market the anti-microbial veg packages until approval is granted by the Environmental Protection Agency. At present that process could take up to two years and cost several thousand dollars.

The potential benefits of nano science are too great to ignore, he continued. “There’s a real problem with the world’s food supply and nano science could make a big impact on it.” But for that to happen scientists, regulators and manufacturers should become much more familiar with nanotechnology.

Meanwhile, Norwood said that the physical dimensions of a nanoparticle were in the same proportions to a foot ball as a foot ball is to the earth.

He estimated the value of the US nanotechnology industry as $60bn which could rise to $2.8 trillion by 2014.