The Institute of Food Technologists held its 2nd International Food Nanoscience conference on Wednesday, August 1, 2007, in conjunction with the 2007 IFT Annual Meeting & Food ExpoSM in Chicago, Ill. More than 200 participants from industry, government, and academia attended the conference. Among the countries represented at the conference were the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Taiwan, the Netherlands, and Canada.

International Food Nanoscience Conference

The theme of the conference was "Nanoscale Science of Food: Opportunities and Challenges," and the objectives were to review the state of nanoscale science and technology research worldwide and its applications in food systems; survey and discuss potential challenges and opportunities resulting from advancement and application of nanoscale science and technology in food; and stimulate the mainstream food science community to engage in the exploration of a full range of topics associated with potential benefits and risks of food-related nanoscience and nanotechnologies.

The conference was sponsored in part by IFT’s International Division, the Royal Netherlands Embassy, Blue Pacific Flavors Inc., and Canada’s Advanced Foods and Materials Network.

Nanoscience Around the World
IFT President Dennis Heldman highlighted the immense opportunities that are possible with nanoscience as an evolving science in the areas of food safety and biosecurity, food processing, food packaging, and ingredient technologies. He also highlighted IFT’s role as a research champion and catalyst for science and its well-established infrastructure for communication and technology dissemination.

Jochen Weiss of the University of Massachusetts said that in the U.S., nanoscale research is coordinated by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a multi-agency federal research and development program. Food research efforts are predominantly funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Private funding is also increasing, as evidenced by the number of patents granted. Advances in food nanotechnologies in the areas of packaging, processing, and ingredient technologies are increasingly finding their way into food applications. Overall, he said, food nanotechnology is one of the most active research frontiers in food science and has garnered interest from food manufacturers looking toward commercialization.

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Rickey Yada of Advanced Foods and Materials Network/University of Guelph, Canada, said that nanoscience research activities in Canada are managed by the Advanced Foods and Materials Network. AFMNet, Canada’s national food and bio-materials research network, is designed to discover new ideas and develop new biology-based technologies that will create new commercial opportunities. Its mission is for a healthier Canada, and it partners with industry, government, not-for-profit organizations, and national and international research institutions. On-going projects are in the areas of biofilms, hydrogels, cationic peptides, nutrient delivery systems, and exploration of some of the ethical and social issues arising from nanoscience developments.

Vic Morris of the Institute of Food Research, United Kingdom, said that food nanotechnology is an emerging area of interest in the UK and Europe in general. Uses for nanoparticles are being explored in food and food contact materials. There is growing interest in the use of "inert" nanoparticles in edible coatings and barriers, preservatives, antimicrobials, and mineral supplements. The main concern from a regulatory standpoint, he said, is with nanoparticles added to food, especially those that may not metabolize, as there is inadequate information on potential for toxicity or bioaccumulation in the body.

Frans Kampers of Wageningen UR, the Netherlands, discussed Nano4Vitality, a new program in the Netherlands for nanoscience in food and health systems. Its purpose is to create application-driven nanotechnologies. Each project within the program, he said, will have an underlying business case with an aim to apply the results within three years. The major themes for the program are food safety and quality, including sensors and analysis systems, tracking/tracing/monitoring devices, active packaging, process technology, and encapsulation and delivery systems.

Shinya Ikeda of CP Kelco, Japan, said that food nanotechnology research in Japan is specified as one of the priority research targets in the Third Science and Technology Basic Plan that was announced by the government in March 2006, with a focus on functional foods. Tools and methods to characterize and measure nanoscale structures (e.g., scanning probe microscopes) have become increasingly available to food scientists.

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An-I Yeh of National Taiwan University said that research and applications of nanotechnology in food in Taiwan started about six years ago. A logo for nanoproducts was launched in 2004 by the Industrial Bureau. The main activities are in academia, with a focus on the preparation and characterization of nanoparticles, utilization of nanotechnology to enhance absorption of active compounds in Chinese herbs, study of physiological effects of nanoparticles such as iron and calcium, and other applications.

Applications in Food
The session on "Nanotechnology Benefits: Application Areas in Food," moderated by Rickey Yada of AFMNet and Peter Given of Pepsi-Cola Co., provided a summary of the developments of potential applications. These include creation of rapid detection methods such as sensors for food safety and quality; design of high-performance packaging materials; development of processing technologies; and development of novel delivery systems that better protect functional ingredients and allow for controlled release of encapsulated compounds.

Jeremy Tzeng of Clemson University discussed his research on utilizing carbohydrate biofunctionalized nanoparticles as potential alternatives to antibiotics for the removal and control of foodborne pathogens. These applications take advantage of the pathogenic bacteria’s ability to use carbohydrate-binding proteins (adhesions) to adhere to specific host cell receptors (carbohydrate receptors) to initiate infection. For example, the multivalent D-mannose biofunctionalized nanoparticles bound strongly with Escherichia coli ORN178, which expressed FimH adhesion, resulting in significant nanoparticle-mediated bacterial aggregations. These nanoparticles also have potential application in biosensor development, he said.

Gary Maki of the University of Idaho discussed the development of a biosensor for detection of the food pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. He stressed the importance of integrating diverse disciplines such as surface chemistry, organic chemistry, molecular biology, and electronics to achieve significant advancements in the area of food-related nanotechnology.

Tara McHugh of the Western Regional Research Center and Processed Foods Research Unit of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service discussed the application of nanoscience in food packaging. She mentioned such diverse uses as control of gas permeability; incorporation of antimicrobials; integration of nanosensors for detection of chemicals, pathogens, and toxins; and repelling of dirt. Among the commercialized technologies are nanocomposite materials used for improved strength, barrier properties, and stability to heat and cold, and use of silver nanoparticles for antimicrobial activity. Future applications include use of nanosensors in food packages to detect chemicals, pathogens, and toxins in foods and use of radiofrequency identification tags in intelligent packaging.

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Charles Brain of Ingredient Innovations International gave an overview of how nanoscience could be used to enhance food, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. He also described specific benefits of nanoscience ingredient technology, including excellent dispersion and suspension of water-insoluble ingredients in water-based products; reduced interaction with other ingredients in a product; reduced oxidation of sensitive ingredients; controlled release; and improved bioavailability.

Lekh Juneja of Taiyo Kagaku Ltd. discussed the concept of its Nutrient Delivery System in the development of products currently marketed in Japan. Using NDS, Taiyo has been able to overcome issues related to nutrient fortification, such as taste, flavor, stability, solubility, safety, and bioavailability. One success story was iron fortification of milk products in Japan.

John Dutcher of the University of Guelph discussed the importance of understanding complex properties of foods and food materials using a combination of experimental and computational techniques at the nanoscale level. He stressed the importance of multidisciplinary research, an approach used by AFMNet that is necessary and critical to the successful and efficient development of foods and food products, as well as novel food applications using science and technology at the nanoscale level.

Daniel S. Kohane (shown in photo above) of the Laboratory for Biomaterials and Drug Delivery at the Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School discussed biomedical drug-delivery systems based on micro- and nanoparticles. He provided several examples of how the difference in size between those two types of particles affects distribution and efficacy of a drug and the implications regarding formulation and performance. He also reviewed the scope of applications for systemic and local delivery/use and addressed some of the challenges that face the field, such as the potential ability of nanoparticles to penetrate cells.

Risk and Regulation
The session on "Nanotechnology: Risk Assessment, Regulation and Toxicology" was chaired by Bernadene Magnuson of the University of Maryland and Bart Sattler of the Netherlands Office for Science & Technology at the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington,D.C.

Bernadene Magnuson outlined some of the potential issues and challenges facing the food industry, including the safety, consumer, environmental, and societal impacts of using nanomaterials in foods. She discussed the risk assessment approach, which includes evaluation of both exposure and hazard assessment. She also identified the need for consumer education to ensure consumer confidence and acceptance of food products that either contain or have been produced using nanoscale materials or technologies. Nanotechonology, she said, also offers a new way to excite students to study food science. She concluded by saying that the potential environmental and societal impacts of food-related applications of nanotechnology need to be considered during development of commercial applications.

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Mitchell Cheeseman provided an update on the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory oversight on food applications of nanotechnology. He discussed the underlying statutes and regulations governing food ingredients, as well as the scientific and regulatory questions raised by the use of nanotechnology in the production of food ingredients and food.

He also discussed concerns and questions specific to food ingredients produced using nanotechnology and referred to the recently released FDA Commissioner’s Task Force report on nanotechnology ( The report considers questions on the safety of food products produced using nanotechnology and/or containing nanosized ingredients and the adequacy of current law, regulations, and science to ensure the safety of food ingredients and food products.

FDA, he said, acknowledges that nanotechnology will present regulatory challenges similar to those posed by other new technologies that FDA has dealt with previously, as well as some potentially new challenges. FDA’s authorities are expected to be adequate to meet these challenges, but in some cases the evolving state of the science may warrant a case-by-case approach to satisfy the applicable statutory and regulatory standards. He urged industry to engage with FDA and use their expertise to assess how potential applications may be viewed and what data may be required for commercialization.

Nigel Walker of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and its National Toxicology Program described the Nanotechnology Safety Initiative of the NIEHS ( Research, he said, is on-going to evaluate the toxicological properties of classes of nanoscale materials that represent a cross-section of composition, size, surface coatings, and physicochemical properties. The studies are designed to investigate fundamental questions concerning how nanoscale materials are absorbed and distributed in vivo and whether they can adversely impact biological systems. The current focus is on nanoscale metal oxides, quantum dots, and titanium dioxide. Studies to assess safety of oral exposure to nanosilver and nanogold are underway.

Reiterating the Potential
In his conference wrap-up remarks, John Floros, IFT’s then-President-Elect, reiterated the potential for nanoscale science and related technologies to positively impact the food industry, the safety of our food supply, and the health and wellness of the population. He recognized the possible challenges and urged all stakeholders to turn them into opportunities.

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He commended the various researchers for their efforts, and emphasized the need for collaboration among various institutions (government, academia, industry, and other organizations), and across expertise (food scientists, physicists, chemists, materials scientists and engineers, physicians, etc.), both nationally and internationally. And he underscored the need for effective and open communication among stakeholders to avoid past mistakes with other emerging technologies.

Working Group Develops Plan
IFT’s Food Nanoscience Working Group recently developed its long-term strategic plan. The goal of the working group is to facilitate the acquisition, generation, and communication of technical and safety developments of nanoscale materials for food applications in order to advance the pursuit of scientific endeavors, encourage collaboration among organizations with interest in food nanoscience, and influence regulatory agencies, consumers, and the general public’s decision making regarding nanoscience and food.

The group’s objectives are to position IFT as a leader in the community of researchers exploring the nanoscale science of food and provide a forum for stakeholder engagement; to leverage partnerships with leading nanoscience research and policy institutions to encourage collaboration and exchange of information, and to advocate for increased funding for nanoscale science of food.

More information is available at

Betty Bugusu, Ph.D. ( [email protected] ), is Research Scientist, Institute of Food Technologists, 1025 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20036. Meryl Lubran ( [email protected] ) is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park.