Nanotechnology Introduction Series:
Food Industry

By: Dr Stanley Crawford (Ed.D)

The food industry has been making strides in the use of nanotechnology. This article discusses the following areas of nanotechnology: nanotechnology in food packaging, nanotechnology in food ingredients, and nanotechnology in water purification.  Nanotechnology is the development and use of techniques to study physical phenomena and construct structures in the physical size range of 1-100 nanometers (nm), as well as the incorporation of these structures into applications [1].  It should be pointed out that in some areas of nanotechnology the definition is expanded from 100 nanometers to several hundred nanometers.


Nanomaterials Food Packaging

First let us look at applying nanotechnology to the packaging of food.  In this area, we are often looking at the use of nanomaterials being applied to packaging materials.  As presented by Bradley, Castle, and Chaudhry (2011), nanomaterials may be used for packaging in some of the following ways:

  • Nanocomposites:  Incorporate nanomaterials into the packaging in order to improve physical performance, durability, barrier properties, and biodegradation.
  • Nano-coatings:  Incorporate nanomaterials onto the packaging surface in order to improve barrier properties.
  • Surface biocides:  Incorporate nanomaterials with antimicrobial properties acting on the packaging surface.
  • Active packaging:  Incorporate nanomaterials with antimicrobial properties or other properties with intentional release into and consequent effect on the packaged food [2].

Now let us turn to nanotechnology in food ingredients.  In food ingredients nanotechnology has been used to modify taste, color, and texture of foods; detection of food pathogens and spoilage microorganisms [3].  For example, titanium dioxide (TiO2) is an additive that is used in food products. It is mainly used as a pigment because of is brightness and resistance to discoloration.  In addition, TiO2 is used as an antimicrobial, as a catalyst for water purification, and in medical applications [4].

Finally, we look at nanotechnology and water purification.   This is a critical area for all people, but in certain parts of the world water is less plentiful than in other parts of the world.  As a result, any technology that can help to improve water purification methods is of great value.  Research has been conducted in water treatment and reuse and some of the promising results revolve around engineered nanomaterials.  A few examples of the engineered nanomaterials technologies follow:

  • Superior sorbents with high, irreversible adsorption capacity; such as, nano-magnetite to remove arsenic,
  • Hypercatalyst for advanced oxidation; such as, TiO2
  • Disinfection without harmful byproducts; such as TiO2 and derivatized fullerenes [5]

In addition, researchers are experimenting with carbon nanotube-based membranes for water desalination and nanoscale sensors to identify contaminants in water systems.  One such process was developed by Professor Somenath Mitra of the New Jersey Institute of Technology [6].  These represent a few of the ways nanotechnology is being utilized or researched for in the area of foods.


[1] R.N. Kostoff, R.G. Koytcheff, C.G.Y. Lau, Global nanotechnology research literature overview, Technological forecasting & Social Change, 2007, Volume 74, 1733-1747.

[2] E.L. Bradley, L. Castle, Q. Chaudhry, Applications of nanomaterials in food packaging with consideration of opportunities for developing countries, Trends in Food Science and Technology, volume 22, 604-610.

[3] P.R. Srinivas, M. Philbert, T.Q. Vu, Q. Huang, J.L. Kokini, E. Saos, H. Ghen, C. M. Peterson, K.E. Friedl, C. McDade-Ngutter, V. Hubbard, P. Starke-Reed, N. Miller, J. M. Betz, J. Dwyer, J. Milner, S.A. Ross, Nanotechnology research: Applications in nutritional sciences, The Journal of Nutrition, Symposium-Nanotechnology Research:  Applications in Nutritional Sciences, 2010, 140: 119-124.

[4] A. Weir, P. Westerhoff, L. Fabricius, N. von Goetz, Titanium dioxide nanoparticles in food and personal care products, Environmental  Science Technology, 2012, Volume 46, Number 4, 2242-2250.

[5] J. Brame, Q. Li, P. J.J. Alvarez, Nanotechnology enabled water treatment and reuse: emerging opportunities and challenges for developing countries, Trends in Food Science & Technology, 2011, Volume 22, 618-624.

[6] New Jersey Institute of Technology (2011, March 15). New desalination process developed using carbon nanotubes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 12, 2013, from­/releases/2011/03/110314140632.htm

Category: Nanotechnology