Nanotechnology-enabled foods and food contact materials on the UK market

The Food Standards Agency is monitoring the use of nanotechnology-enabled foods and food contact materials on the UK market.

Nanotechnology and nanomaterials can be a natural part of food processing and conventional foods, and the characteristic properties of many foods rely on nanometre-sized components (such as nanoemulsions and foams). These nano-sized structures, which are formed from ordinary ingredients or components of food during processing, are one type of nanomaterial, sometimes referred to as ‘soft’ nanomaterials. Examples include homogenised milk, ricotta cheese, and nanoemulsion formulations of food ingredients, such as co-enzyme Q10 in food supplements.

Perhaps of more interest to regulators, industry and consumers are ‘hard’ nanomaterials that are likely to be insoluble and persistent, and whose biological properties cannot be predicted. The Agency is focusing its attention on ‘hard’ nanomaterials that may intentionally be added to foods or food contact materials.

The Agency is currently aware of the following nanomaterials that are permitted to be used in foods or food contact materials, providing they meet the requirements of the relevant legislation:

Nanomaterial Related information
Fumed silica One specific form of E551, silicon dioxide, is a food additive that is authorised for use as an anti-caking agent and a carrier.

E551 (including fumed silica) has been approved for many years and it is commonly used in the preparation of a wide range of foods. However, there is no information on extent of use of the specific 'fumed silica' form of this additive.
Nanoclay The mineral montmorillonite (also called as bentonite) has potential use in a variety of food packaging applications, such as in packaging for fruit juices and dairy products or bottles for beer and carbonated drinks, to provide a better barrier to gases and extend shelf-life.

Plastic beer bottles that incorporate a layer of nanoclay are reported to be in use in other countries (for example in the US) but not at present in the UK.
Nanosilver Items such as re-useable food containers are available in the UK (via websites) and function to inhibit the growth of microorganisms.
Titanium nitride Polymer composites incorporating titanium nitride have been developed to improve the rigidity and strength of food packaging objects.

Titanium nitride was evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority in 2008 and has been approved as an additive for use in some food contact plastics since 1 May 2011. The Agency is not aware of any commercial use of this additive.

We will provide further information if we are made aware of any updates to this current position.

Any enquiries or information related to the use of nanomaterials in food can initially be submitted to novelfoods@foodstandards.gsi.gov.uk.