The results of a study commissioned by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), led by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission, were published in a review paper on June 16, 2016, in the peer-reviewed journal Trends in Food Science & Technology. The scientists examined the scope of nanomaterial (NM) applications, both already marketed and under development, in agriculture, animal feed, food processing, novel foods, food additives, and food contact materials (FCMs).

The majority of currently marketed NM applications are used in the food sector, as food additives and in FCMs. More NM applications are currently being developed for these two product categories, but also for novel foods, feed, biocides, pesticides, and fertilizers areas. Nanoencapsulates, silver, titanium dioxide, and silica currently are used most often. Research and development efforts focus particularly on nanoencapsulates and nanocomposites. Comparing between applications already used and those being developed, a trend from inorganic to organic nanomaterials can be observed.

For FCMs in particular, NMs are applied in food packaging and storing, cooking equipment, coating of processing surfaces, and nanosieves or nanomembranes. Of these applications, NMs are most often incorporated in the package and storage materials serving to prolong the food’s freshness and increase its shelf-life.  For example, nanocomposites can provide improved mechanical, thermal, and barrier properties, and introduce additional functions, such as antimicrobial actions, but also oxygen scavenging or ethylene removal. Nanosensors can be used to monitor food quality in real time. In food processing, nanosieves and nanomembranes are being increasingly used to separate undesired components from food, for example to filter out bacteria.

Currently, 45% of nanoenabled packaging is used in the Asia and Pacific area, followed by the U.S. and Australia, and much less nanotechnology applications are in use in the EU. The nanoforms authorized for use in FCMs in the EU include “titanium nitride, silicon dioxide, carbon black, (butadiene, ethyl acrylate, methyl methacrylate, styrene) copolymer in nanoform cross-linked with divinylbenzene, cross-linked with 1,3-butanediol dimethacrylate or not cross-linked, and kaolin”. For all these materials, risk assessment was based on zero exposure, because no migration of the NM to the food was demonstrated. More NM applications are currently under evaluation in the EU.

Read more

Nanotechnology Industries Association (August 1, 2016). “New JRC report provides overview of nanomaterials in food, feed and ag.

JRC (Oct 28, 2016). “Stocktaking and forecast of nanotechnology applications in agriculture, feed and food products.


Peters, R. et al. (2016). “Nanomaterials for products and application in agriculture, feed and food.Trends in Food Science & Technology 54: 155-164.