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FSANZ Reports on Nanotechnology in Food Packaging Find No Health Risks

A review of scientific literature on exposure to nanoscale silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide, and silver in food, including from sources of food packaging, did not find any significant health risks, according to the results of a study which was recently commissioned by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ).  The results of the study were published in two reports: Nanotechnologies in Food Packaging: an Exploratory Appraisal of Safety and Regulation and Potential Health Risks Associated with Nanotechnologies in Existing Food Additives.

The report on nanotechnologies in food packaging noted that current applications of nanomaterials in food packaging include:

  • Enhancement of barrier properties through the incorporation of nano-fillers (e.g., nano-clay)
  • “Active” food packaging, with controlled release of active substances such as antimicrobials to improve the shelf-life of food (e.g., nanosilver)
  • Improvement of physical characteristics to make the packaging more tensile, durable, or thermally stable (e.g., nano-titanium dioxide, titanium nitride)

The food packaging report states that no evidence was found in the literature review to indicate that nano-clay is likely to cause adverse effects on health when used in food packaging.  Further, the majority of migration studies on nanosilver have shown levels of migration of ionic silver into foods and food simulants below thresholds set by well-established scientific and regulatory bodies, such as the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) specific migration limit (SML) of 0.05 mg Ag/kg food. Overall, the data reviewed for most of the studied nanomaterials in food packaging indicate that migration of intact nanoparticles from food packaging into food simulants is negligible, implying consumer exposure to these materials is likely to be low. The authors conclude that this suggests “there is low potential for safety issues related to the ‘nano-ness’ of the materials incorporated into food packaging.”

The report points out that the majority of the existing patents for nanomaterials originate in the United States.  No patents for nanomaterials in food packaging were identified in Australia and New Zealand, implying that domestically-sourced nanomaterials may not presently be used in food packaging applications in Australia or New Zealand; however, the report suggests that food and packaging materials incorporating imported nanomaterials may be used in Australia and New Zealand.

While neither report identified any health concerns from any of the nanotechnologies described, FSANZ did note that nanotechnology is a rapidly evolving field, and that the conclusions set forth in the reports may need to be revisited as the sophistication and application of nanotechnologies to food and food packaging continues to advance.