Assessing the Safety of Nanomaterials in Food (Online Exclusive) Rosetta Newsome | August 2011, Volume 65, No.8

A review and analysis of the scientific literature on the safety of food-related nanoscale materials found that there is a need for a minimum set of physicochemical parameters to characterize test materials, a method to assess the quality and reliability of the studies, and further food- and health-related research.

IFT supports the advancement of innovation and communication surrounding nanoscale science, engineering, and technology to realize the full potential for positive contributions to the food and nutrition needs of our growing global population. During the past five years, IFT has led collaboration and information exchange on food nanotechnology among the regulatory, research, and policy communities through coordination of several International Food Nanoscience Conferences, webinars, and short courses, and establishing a topical section in the Journal of Food Science (IFT 2010). IFT also initiated a collaborative research team that led an assessment of the state of the science on the safety of nanotechnology in food-related applications.

Currently, a significant barrier to innovation is the scientific uncertainty about toxicity of nanomaterials and how safety should be assessed. Engineered nanomaterials present new challenges to toxicology and risk assessment because their surface-active properties can affect their interactions with biological systems. Furthermore, these properties are not necessarily static―they can be affected by the nanomaterial’s surroundings.

With the collaboration and support of IFT, the Grocery Manufacturers of America, International Life Sciences Institute of North America, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL), CANTOX Health Sciences, an Intertek Co. (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada) conducted a scientific review and analysis of the literature pertaining to the safety of food-related nanoscale materials that were administered orally. Components of this activity and findings, summarized below, were addressed in extensive detail in peer-reviewed publications, namely Journal of Food Science, International Journal of Toxicology, and Critical Reviews in Toxicology.

Physicochemical Parameters
The first component of the literature assessment was the recognition by Card and Magnuson (2009) that a minimum set of physicochemical parameters needs to be established to characterize test materials used in research into the biological activities of nanomaterials, and that articles submitted for publication be evaluated according to how well these physicochemical parameters are characterized and reported. Developed from the characteristics most frequently suggested by six international expert sources, the physicochemical parameters proposed as a minimum that should be characterized regardless of the route of exposure were:

  • agglomeration and/or aggregation
  • chemical composition
  • crystal structure/crystallinity
  • particle size/size distribution
  • purity
  • shape
  • surface area
  • surface charge
  • surface chemistry, including composition and reactivity

Because some parameters could likely be different for a nanomaterial in experimental media than for the nanomaterial in bulk “as received” state, Card and Magnuson indicated that they agree with others that these parameters must also be documented in the experimental exposure media to the greatest extent possible. Card and Magnuson (2009) acknowledged that some parameters, such as purity, would be a challenge to accurately describe or measure, but stated that a dialog on these issues through the attempted reporting of a set of physicochemical parameters would be valuable.

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