Nanomaterials in the packaging and food industry

In contrast to other areas, consumers are rather skeptical towards the application of nanotechnologies in the food sector. The Woodrow Wilson database currently (2017) contains more than 100 products in the category Food & Beverage (including food packaging).

Nanotechnologies in the packaging industry

Nanotechnologies are used in packagings to protect food from chemical-biological (oxygen, bacteria) or physical and mechanical (UV radiation, pressure, etc.) impact (Greßler et al., 2008). Some of the most widely used nanomaterials are (LGL 2012):

  • Nanocomposites, which are applied to conventional polymers using special methods in nanometer-thin layers. This serves to improve mechanical and / or thermal properties. Bentonite, koalinite or (nanofibrillated) cellulose are used as the primary material.
  • Nanoscale surface coatings of silica or aluminum oxides improve the barrier properties.
  • Nano additives such as amorphous silica or titanium nitride are added to polymers in the form of nanoparticles or aggregates in order to improve their mechanical or thermal properties. Silver nanoparticles are added to achieve antimicrobial effects.

Nanotechnologies and food

Today, nanotechnologies are used in the industry primarily for the production of so-called "functional food" and for additives. Functional food uses nanoscale micelles, liposomes, and nanoemulsions to protect active agents (e.g. oxidation), improve solubility, provide controlled delivery, or increase bioavailability. Oils, flavorings, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals etc. are used or transported as active ingredients (Greßler et al., 2008).

In Germany, all food ingredients in the form of engineered nanomaterials have to be labeled with the suffix "(nano)" since 2014 (s. Regulations 1169/2011 and 1363/2013 of the European Commission). Lycopene (a carotenoid) and nanoparticulate beta-carotene are permitted in foods. Silicon dioxide, which can be present in nanoscale form, is permitted for some applications (Greßler et al., 2008). The European regulations on food additives 1333/2008 and the "Novel Foods" Regulation 258/97 are legally relevant in Germany (LUBW 2012).

In addition, nano-filters and membranes are used in the processing of foodstuffs, e.g. for the treatment of water or oil (Greßler et al., 2008).