Nanotech food under discussion in Amsterdam

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food

The role of nanotechnology in food processing, monitoring,
labelling, storage and distribution is the subject of a two day
meeting that kicks off tomorrow in Amsterdam, Holland.

According to organisers of the Nano and Microtechnologies in the Food & Healthfood Industries conference, the application of nanotechnology and nanoparticles in food are emerging rapidly.

Some analysts predict that nanotechnology will be incorporated into €16.4bn worth of food products by 2010.

The Amsterdam meeting is one of a growing number of such scientific conferences worldwide, sparked by the food sector's interest in developing new products that could provide health advantages to consumers. Scientists are looking at nanotechnology applications covering all areas of the food chain, from agricultural applications to food processing and enhancing bioavailability of nutrients.

However enthusiasm over the rate of progress and the possibilities is being tempered by concerns over possible downsides of the science of the miniscule, stated the Institute of Nanotechnology.

The conference will highlight many of the applications of nanotechnologies to the food and beverage industries in Europe.

Such applications include a broad spectrum of products from pesticides, cosmetics, medical application to packaging materials, processing technologies and novel or functional foods

Other topics being explored at the meeting are nanotechnology applications in nutrition and health foods, for rapid safety testing, and for the prevention of food borne disease.

Participants will also discuss the safety and regulatory issues related to nanotechnology, along with public awareness and understanding of the role of nanotechnology in foods.

Among the presentations Kees Eijkel of the Nano4Vitality consortium will discuss the need to increase the speed and efficiency of the commercialisation process.

"Nanotechnology introduces new chances for innovation in the food and health industries at great speed, but these chances face a long and intensive path towards full commercialisation,"​ he says in a synopsis of his presentation. "There is a lot of emphasis on fundamental and basic research at this time."

Malcolm Povey, a professor of food physics at the University of Leeds will discuss techniques for the characterisation of foods using nanotechnology.

Foods are generally complex, heterogeneous systems, often containing high concentrations of naturally occurring nano-particles such as proteins.

"Production and characterisation of nano-particles in foods has hitherto been called ‘food colloid science’, so there is a wealth of experience in this area upon which nano-technology may draw upon,"​ he argues. "Ultrasound spectroscopy offers the best prospect for the characterisation of concentrated systems of nano-particles."

He will also examine naturally occurring nanoparticles such as the self-assembling protein casein. He will compare ultrasound spectroscopy, dynamic and static light scattering techniques according to their relative merits for the detection and characterisation of nanoparticles in food.

Qasim Chaudhry, Defra of the Central Science Laboratory in the UK will look at the use of nanomaterials in food and food contact materials and the regulatory and consumer safety implications.

"The rapid proliferation of nanotechnology in recent years has led to an ever-increasing application of nano-scale materials in a vast array of industrial and consumer products,"​ he stated. "This includes a range of foods and drinks, food supplements, and food contact materials. However, such widespread use of nanomaterials, that are largely untested in terms of effects on human health and the environment, has also led to a number of uncertainties and concerns."

Anna Tudos of Biochip Group at the Universiteit Twente in the Netherlands will look at how regularly occurring food scares and several food scandals might have been prevented through the use of food analysis techniques such as surface plasmon resonance (SPR).

"Food analysis can be carried out as a quality assurance measure early in the processing chain as well as later to ensure food safety,"​ she argues.

SPR has been gaining terrain in the area of food analysis recently. In here presentation Tudos will look at approaches and examples on microfabricated devices in combination with SPR for label-free determination of multiple components in complex matrices.

Frans Kampers, the director BioNT will look at how micro- and nanotechnology will lead to sensors and diagnostic instruments with improved sensitivity and selectivity. Such devices will allow managers to monitor food processes and assure food quality.

"These new instruments will enable much faster measurements in or near production lines by non-expert personnel,"​ he stated. "But micro- and nanotechnology will also result in new concepts for food production processes."

Such examples include microsieves for separation and fractionation which can also improve emulsification processes and can result in new products like low-fat mayonnaise.

"Control of matter at the nanoscale will enable fine tuning of specific food characteristics like texture to the demands of specific target groups,"​ he stated. "The use of drug delivery concepts for nutrient delivery will improve the nutritional quality of food products. Nanotechnology can be used to improve packaging materials. Combined with printable electronics and low cost sensors information about the product and its quality will become readily available to consumers."

Kjeld van Bommel of Biomade Technology Foundation will look at supramolecular gels as :novel materials for the formulation and delivery of nutraceuticals.

He will discuss Biomade's expertise in low molecular weight gelators (LMWGs). These are small organic molecules that are capable of forming gels in aqueous media, in food oils, or in emulsions.

"Such gels of LMWGs are an attractive complement or even alternative for the polymer gels such as gelatin currently used in food and nutraceutical applications, as they possess properties generally not attainable by polymer gels,"​ he stated.

Mark Mansour will discuss the the emerging global regulatory framework for nanotechnology. Robert Donofrio of NSF International will discuss rapid safety testing techniques for of foods' nanomaterials.

"Though nanotechnology brings many potential benefits to food production, such as increased shelf life and pathogen resistance, its development must be guided by appropriate safety assessments and regulation to minimise risk,"​ he argues. "Currently, there is no framework in place to assess the toxicity of nanomaterials. This is a concern in both the US and Europe. Additionally, it will be essential to have validated, rapid tests in place to evaluate the potential toxicity of new nanomaterials."

Two new emerging technologies he will highlight for the toxicological assessment of nanomaterials in food applications are high content screening (HCS) and what is called the "zebrafish model". The HCS technique evaluates the biological effects of chemical substances in in vitro cell based assays using the ArrayScan HCS Reader from Cellomics.

The Zebrafish (Danio rerio) has been a prominent model vertebrate in a variety of biological disciplines. It can provide valuable developmental toxicity information. Coupled with high content screening, it could provide valuable insight into the potential toxicity of nanomaterials, he stated.

Vasco Teixeira of GRF-Functional Coatings Group at the University of Minho in Portugal will look at advanced nanotechnology thin film techniques.

In the field of nanotechnology-based thin films and coatings, new approaches using nanoscale effects can be used to design, create or model nanocoating systems with significantly optimised or enhanced properties of high interest to the food, health and biomedical industry, he stated.

"In this field of new packaging technologies, nanostructured architectures coatings such as nanocomposite films are given the unique role of enhancing food impact over the consumer’s health,"​ he stated. "For example, the unique properties of diamond like carbon (DLC) film, including its chemical inertness and impermeability, make it possible for new applications in food, beverage and medical market segments."

Cees Van Rijn of Aquamarijn Micro Filtration will present nano and micro-engineering techniques for microfiltration and nanosensing applications. His topic includes the micro filtration of beverages using microsieves.

With microengineering techniques it is possible to manufacture very precise microsieves. The pores, which are well defined by photolithographic methods allow accurate separation of particles by size. The membrane thickness is usually smaller than the pore size resulting in operational process fluxes that are one to two decades higher than obtained with convential filtration methods.

He will also examine the future of nanowire sensing along the food chain. Nanowire sensing techniques look at the rapid detection of relevant biomolecules using a nanowire with a diameter comparable to the size of an individual biomolecule. The technique offers a direct, real-time detection of captured biomolecules without the usage of a fluorescent, magnetic or otherwise labeled molecule or particle.

Hans Bouwmeester of RIKILT-Institute of Food Safety at Wageningen University will cover the expected impact of nanotechnologies on industrial production.

Lynn Frewer from Wageningen University will examine consumer perspectives on food and nanotechnology.

"Nanotechnology can be used to develop new products and processes that can improve the quality of life of consumers through improved health, better sensory enjoyment of food, and reduced risk associated with food consumption -- for example, reduced microbial contamination, or improved traceability of allergenic ingredients,"​ he stated. "However, as has already been demonstrated by the example of genetically modified foods, successful implementation and commercialisation of new technologies technology is contingent on societal acceptance of the technology overall, as consumer responses to specific applications."

Neville Craddock of Neville Craddock Associates will present current and potential regulation of nanotechnologies in the food industry. His paper will provide a practitioner’s view of the law currently in place.

Tim Wooster of Food Science Australia will discuss the use of nanoemulsions for the beverage sector. Nanoemulsions have recently received a lot of attention from the food industry because of their high clarity, he stated.

"This may enable the addition of nanoemulsified bioactives and flavors to a beverage without a change in product appearance,"​ he stated. "The formation of food nanoemulsions is particularly challenging because of limitations on the type of surfactants that can be used. Approaches that have been used include microemulsion and nanoemulsion formats."

Zahra Akbari of the department of chemical engineering at Amirkabir University of Technology will look at the potential of nanotechnology for the food packaging industry.

His presentation gathers a number of significant results where nanotechnology was satisfactorily applied to improve packaged food quality and safety by increasing the barrier properties.

"Nanotechnology will become one of the most powerful forces for innovation in the food packaging,"​ he stated.

One such innovation is polymer nanocomposite technology which holds the key to future advances in flexible packaging.

Companies such as Heinz, Nestlé, Unilever and Kraft are all examining the potential of nanotechnology for packaging, food safety and nutritional products.

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